Development of an Environmental and Economic Assessment Tool for Fire Events

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In broad terms, the impact of fire on a community is usually measured in terms of the number of fires, human casualties, and property damage. There are, however, more subtle impacts of fire that are not so easily estimated but contribute to the measure of overall performance of the fire service in protecting a community. A simple method of estimating two of these issues: environmental impact and economic impact is proposed to help fire departments communicate the value of their
services to the communities they protect.

Concern for the health of the natural environment is growing as human population grows and as new levels of contamination of scarce resources are revealed. While wildland fires occur naturally and can have some beneficial effects on the environment, most fires occurring in the built environment contribute to contamination of air and possibly also to surface water, groundwater, sediment, and soil [1‐3]. Firefighting operations might also impact the environment, particularly water, sediment, and soil [4]. Fire debris and ash often contain many harmful constituents, depending on the fuel and burning conditions of the fire [5]. From an economic perspective, the direct and indirect costs of fire on a community can be devastating [6], but are not usually reported at a local scale beyond an account of the human deaths and injuries and the amount of property destroyed or damaged. An estimate of the financial impact of specific fire incidents that includes not only the human and property losses, but also such factors as fire protection, insurance, rebuilding of the structure(s), temporary housing, missed work, loss of business, etc, as described by Hall [7] could be of benefit to the fire service.

While environmental and economic impact assessment methodologies exist as separate systems, for example the Fire‐LCA model developed at SP [8‐11], they generally require a high level of knowledge that is outside the scope of most fire departments. A relatively simple methodology for estimating the environmental and economic impact of fires will help communities understand the degree to which fire department activities can benefit a community’s environmental and economic well‐being.

Research Goal: The goal of this project is to investigate the feasibility of developing a tool that enables fire departments to estimate the value of their services to a community in terms of environmental and financial impact.

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