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How many firefighters does Germany need? – Part 2

In part 1, we have already taken a general look at what goals a fire department is expected to achieve and what effect this has on the deployable radius of the fire stations. Now we’re going to get down to the nitty gritty, and we’ll calculate how much personnel is necessary and how high the cost will be for the various different systems.

Just as a refresher: These are the firefighting systems we will be taking a closer look at:

  • System 1: Completely full-time system
  • System 2: Fully volunteer system
  • System 3: Mixed system of full-time and volunteer
  • System 4: Full-time system, influenced heavily by AGBF specifications

And one more thing: A calculation like this can never truly represent the complex, real world and doesn’t have to be exact down to the last cent. It is mainly meant to provide an idea of the scale one is dealing with. Throughout the next step, you can take a look at the large deviations and figure out what causes them.

How many fire stations and how much personnel do we need for the area?

Small, full-time fire stations with short arrival times: the system in Queensland, Australia

Small, full-time fire stations with short arrival times: the system in Queensland, Australia

I’m going to go ahead and do the calculation for the full-time system (system 1), but it’s the same process for the other three firefighting systems as well.

Germany has a surface of almost 350,000 km². Thus, for an incident range of 156.3 km² per fire station, we will need 2,232 stations to cover the land areas. In addition, we must add the stations with 6 firefighters in order to round out the fire company. For this, we will need only 804 fire stations as arrival times can be longer, which also make the travel times longer. In order to staff the stations for 24 hours, we will use a personnel factor of five. This means that in order to occupy a station while it is moving out, we will need five people who can alternately carry out this function. Due to the fact that no public official can work 365 days straight and there will also be vacations and non-working shifts, this is the value we get. So for a fire brigade for this area, we will need 3,036 fire stations with 135,713 full-time firefighters.

How many fire stations and how much personnel do we need in cities?

A room fire with 1 firefighting truck and 1 aerial platform: the norm in Madrid

A room fire with 1 firefighting truck and 1 aerial platform: the norm in Madrid

While this is a pretty good area calculation for rural areas, it will hardly be feasible in cities. The number of incidents is simply too high; it’s just too much considering the personnel requirement we have for this area. This is why German cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants get an additional extinguishing group as backup for every 50,000 inhabitants. So for around 32 million residents who live in cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, that would be 653 extinguishing groups with an additional 29,389 professional firefighters.

Personnel costs and other costs?

So for system 1 with full-time firefighters we will need 162,102 firefighters in order to work off the incidents for that area as well as increasingly in the cities. If we assume that the service of each firefighter costs around 55,000 EUR per year, it adds up to 9 billion EUR personnel costs per year for Germany. I am estimating that all miscellaneous costs (buildings, vehicles, expendable materials, duty gear) will be about 10% of the personnel costs. As we don’t have to weigh personnel costs for volunteer firefighters, it is best to calculate 5,500 EUR per year and firefighter as the miscellaneous costs. This is comparable to the miscellaneous costs per firefighter for the full-time sector.

All four systems by comparison

Okay, and now let’s calculate all four systems so we can see where we are in terms of personnel and costs. In order to get an idea of what it’s currently like in Germany, I have put together the current values so you guys can make the comparison:

  • Costs for the German firefighting entity: approximately 4,000,000,000 EUR
  • Number of professional firefighters: 27,371
  • Number of volunteer firefighters: 1,041,978
  • Professional fire departments: 101
  • Volunteer fire departments: 24,320

Based on the longer move-out times and the therefore smaller incident ranges, a volunteer system always requires more firefighters than a full-time firefighting system. Still, despite a decreasing number of members, we currently have almost twice as many volunteers in Germany as is required for a target achievement according to AGBF.

What comes as less of a surprise is the fact that a fully professional system based on AGBF values is hardly financially justifiable in Germany as that would mean more than two-and-a-half times the expenses would be necessary. A fully professional system based on teams (system 4) would be feasible with 50% additional costs compared to current expenses. However, this would require massive personnel cuts. So on the outskirts of larger cities, this would mean that there would be a fire station with six firefighters every 12.5 kilometers. These six firefighters would be responsible for carrying out the incidents independently, for the most part.

Here is a detailed look at the four systems:

System 1: Completely full-time system

This system will most likely never exist in this capacity in Germany as it would cost too much. The current budget would have to be increased by 2 ½ times what it currently is in order to meet the requirements of the AGBF. This doesn’t even include other functions such as rescue services, disaster control or special units/vehicles. Also, I don’t know of a state that has full-time firefighters in its area and has this much manpower.

System 2: Fully volunteer system

This firefighting system will also never be realizable in this capacity because, particularly in cities with high incident numbers, this won’t be achievable anymore on a volunteer basis. Also, one must remember that, although we have twice as many volunteers as we calculated, volunteer fire departments are already reaching their limits in many areas.

System 3: Mixed system of full-time and volunteer firefighters

Volunteers and full-time firefighters: a very promising system, even in theory

Volunteers and full-time firefighters: a very promising system, even in theory

Although our sample calculation is rather simple, we are still remarkably close to the real numbers. I calculated that the area is covered by volunteers and that the backup in cities is completely full-time over 50,000 inhabitants. With a deviation of only 18%, this allows for our theoretical calculation to amount to the current expenses of 4 billion EUR. With the number of full-time firefighters we’re almost right on the money. Only when it comes to the required volunteer firefighters, we officially only need half as many as currently necessary. But this has to do with the fact that many smaller fire departments have significantly more personnel than is necessary. Also, numerous special units are staffed, and this is not part of our calculation. Another thing that deviates strongly is the number of fire stations and the sum of the volunteer fire departments. We would need close to 12,000 stations to safeguard Germany, but Germany already has more than twice as many volunteer fire departments as fire stations/compartments.

System 4: Full-time system, strongly affected by AGBF specifications

In the event that one day you really won’t be able to find any volunteers in the firefighting world, a full-time system seems to be inevitable. However, everyone involved should be aware of the fact that we are far away from the circumstances we know now. One or two teams will suddenly be the end all be all of what will arrive at the scene of an average fire or traffic accident. Also, the main focus will now be on “just” saving people and not saving properties anymore. And maybe this makes it a little clearer, why only 60 firefighters show up for a major fire in downtown London while, in Germany, 200 firefighters are running around at the scene of a fire on a farm.

Sample calculation conclusion

Four guys on the engine: the norm in many countries

Four guys on the engine: the norm in many countries

Even though the German firefighting system is criticized a lot, it does show that alternative systems (system 4, for example) really are a step backwards in terms of personnel and costs. In our calculation, we are probably not factoring in a few other important topics such as the quality of the completed incidents, but low levels of staff coverage also lead to a deterioration of quality.

The future challenges the German fire departments face will not be easy, and it will be interesting to see how our system develops. But on the other hand, it also feels good to know that the current system in Germany is apparently better than all the other theoretical concepts that could be applied.

If you guys want to mess around with the numbers, you can download my Excel charts here:

Download: How many firefighters does Germany need – feuerwehrleben.de.zip (74 KB)

What do you think of the sample calculation and the current firefighting system in Germany?

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Eine Antwort zu “How many firefighters does Germany need? – Part 2”

  1. Robert Johnson sagt:

    I have lived in Germany (Heidelberg), the UK, the US, France and the State of Kuwait. For fifty years I have been a student of firefighting. My three comments are as follows. 1) There is a “fifth solution”, employed extensively in the UK and also increasingly common in the US. This is paid call personnel, instead of volunteers. It increases costs, but requires fewer people, as 50% of the people assigned to a station (12-20) must respond within 3 minutes. It also insures training and standards for call stations are the same as fully-manned stations. This is becoming important, as the kinds of emergencies these rural stations respond to are increasingly diverse and complicated. 2) I believe the response issue is not just a matter of numbers of people. A full-time firefighter in a major city quickly develops an experience base to become highly effective in a wide variety of emergencies, and is closely supervised by senior officers. A volunteer at a station which attends only a handful of calls can barely be expected to do much more than “run around”, and volunteers cannot be expected to mount aggressive interior attacks at structure fires. The paid on call firefighter may fill this training and experience gap. 3) Studies in both the UK and US have demonstrated that the key to effective coverage is to get 4-5 personnel to an incident within 5 to 8 minutes, so the pattern is to have larger number of single pumper stations rather than the typical large German station with a full Loeschzug and numerous special-purpose rigs. I note that Berlin is moving in this direction, although the realignment of stations will of course take many years.
    Thanks for a very thought-provoking article. In den letzten vierzig Jahren habe ich kaum Deutsch gesporochen, deswegen sende ich mein Kommentar auf English.

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