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Sprawl and fire department response times across the United States

Matin Katirai, PhD


Fire emergencies demand an immediate response from fire departments so that precious lives may be saved. How those services are distributed in a city will have a tremendous impact on how timely residents will receive a response.Urban sprawl, the pervasive development pattern of the United States, may also have a considerable impact on how agencies respond to everyday emergencies. Urban sprawl creates inefficiencies in service provision and has negative externalities, such as congestion, which also impact public safety. This study investigated and analyzed fire protection as an urban service and the impacts of urban sprawl on fire response. The goal for this study was to examine the impact of the landscape and the characteristics that are associated with sprawl on response times. Data from eight major US cities were collected, including Louisville, KY, Houston, TX, San Francisco, CA, Miami, FL, Seattle,WA, Portland, OR, Charlotte, NC, and St. Paul, MN. Both quantitative and qualitative analyses were used in the examination of cities and their fire districts. Linear regression was used as the main quantitative technique to regress response times (as the main dependent variable) along with the other variables that were associated with sprawl.Three fire chiefs from Louisville, KY, were also interviewed from an urban, urban/suburban, suburban fire districts to assess the impact of sprawl on their respective fire districts. Results indicate that there is variation of how characteristics of urban sprawl affect response times and that the results vary within cities and between cities. Some of the sprawl variables were found to hinder response times in some cities, whereas the opposite was true for other cities.When designing new urban/suburban communities, some of the general recommendations are that steps should be taken to reduce congestion, commuting, and vehicle ownership allowing for better access. Other authors have suggested that both developers and consumers should face higher costs associated with the risk of living in sprawled areas than people may reconsider their choices on where to live, reducing the demand for sprawled types of developments.


sprawl, response time, fire department

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