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PSOs: Not Worth the Costs

Combining the roles of fire fighters and police officers undermines public safety. Today, when faced with the pressure to decrease budgets, municipal decision makers may be more easily tempted by the argument that consolidation can cut costs, even if that argument is unfounded.

At this year’s IAFF John P. Redmond Symposium on the Occupational Health and Hazards of the Fire Service in conjunction with the Dominick F. Barbera Emergency Medical Services Conference you’ll have an opportunity to develop your position on the matter based on facts about PSO organizations from those who have worked in the PSO environment. If you haven’t signed up for the conference do so here.

Leaders can make their strongest arguments in support of a separate fire department when you know the facts that support your position—and are knowledgeable of the opposition’s arguments.

Virtually, all major national public safety organizations are opposed to PSOs, including the IAFF, NFPA, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Decades of evidence shows that PSO departments perceived efficiencies and safety benefits are not worth the cost or the risk.

If PSOs are being discussed in your city, read the full article in the upcoming August issue of the IAFF Magazine that covers many issues associated with PSOs.

Higher Costs

Many communities have learned after the fact that PSO programs are expensive, resulting in increased wages and pension costs, as well as added costs associated with cross training. Costs that won’t show up on financial reports include higher fire losses, greater injury and death.

Low morale
In many cases, the switch to PSOs has led to low morale and contributed to higher rates of turnover among both police officers and fire fighters. High turnover in any fire department is a direct threat to public safety.

Inadequate training
PSOs require special training to acquire the skills needed in both fields, as well as continued training to keep those skills up to date. Yet, historically, cities with PSOs have let their training efforts lapse. Employers cut back on training to make the PSO model less expensive, but such cuts weaken public safety.

Insufficient on-the-job experience
On-the-job training is critically important to effective fire fighting. Public safety officers spend most of their time on law enforcement and thus have fewer opportunities to gain essential firefighting experience.

Role conflicts
Dual service creates conflicts in responsibilities for public safety officers and their supervisors. PSOs report to two different supervisors at different times, based on when they perform law enforcement or fire fighting functions.

Lack of Planning

PSOs have encountered numerous startup problems because of inadequate planning to address issues such as wages, training costs and response priorities.

Failure to meet demand
History has shown that the greater a jurisdiction’s fire and police call volume, the more likely that a PSO system will prove inadequate.

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