Providence Fire Department Staffing Study Revisited

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By J. Curtis Varone

The Providence Fire Department conducted a staffing study in 1990-1991 to determine the effect of increased staffing on injury-related costs. Staffing on the six busiest companies was increased from three members to four. An actuary concluded that a substantial savings was achieved, resulting in permanent staffing increases.

The results of the staffing study were subject to criticism on the basis of participant bias and the Hawthorne Effect, because participating firefighters knew of the study, and of the possibility for permanent staffing increases.

The problem prompting this research was that increased staffing remained highly controversial due to budgetary problems facing Providence. Politicians and the media regularly referred to the department as "bloated."

The purpose of this research was to determine if injury reductions observed during the original staffing study continued during subsequent years. The historical method was used. The research questions were:

  1. What were the results of the staffing study conducted from September 1, 1990 to February 28, 1991?
  2. How do the injury reductions observed during the study period compare with the injuries during the subsequent years?
  3. How does time lost during the study compare with time lost during subsequent years?
  4. Are there factors other than staffing that could have affected the results?

A literature review was conducted on staffing, participant bias, and the Hawthorne Effect. Injury data from the Department Injury-Exposure Database were analyzed.

The results showed that poststudy injuries averaged 35.7 percent fewer than control-period injuries; time-loss injuries averaged 41.9 percent fewer; and time lost was 84 percent lower. The results supported the conclusion that four-person staffing significantly reduces the number and severity of injuries compared with three-person staffing, and that the reductions observed were not the result of participant bias or the Hawthorne Effect.

Recommendations included the Providence Fire Department examining injury data for the study companies annually; an actuary re-examining the economic benefit resulting from the injury reductions; and the department staffing all companies with four persons. Additional research was recommended to identify factors causing injuries in three-person versus four-person companies; validate the results in other fire departments; and help resolve labor disputes pertaining to staffing in other departments.