Putting out fires in local government: Modeling and measuring the influence of managers on public production with an application to fire protection

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration


Patricia W. Ingraham

Second Advisor

William D. Duncombe


Local government, Managers, Public production, Fire protection

Subject Categories

Infrastructure | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration


This research draws from the fields of public management and economics to address one of the most important questions in the study of public service production: How efficiently do governments do what citizens want them to do? The project involves data collection and analysis to support three key objectives:

First, this work develops a valid model and measures of the influence of the behavior of public managers on the productive efficiency of local government agencies. Second, the conceptual model is applied to evaluation of a core government function: fire protection. With over 31,000 fire departments in the United States, more than 2 million fires annually, and an annual property loss approaching $10 billion, fire departments have received surprisingly little rigorous study.

Third, the empirical findings illuminate the viability of various administrative and policy options for the delivery of local public services. The fire service has recently come under a great deal of scrutiny from local government officials interested in improving management and developing cost-saving service delivery arrangements for emergency services. New options for fire departments include consolidation, combination workforces, new specialized technology, and even privatization. There is, however, little data or analysis available to inform these proposals.

This project contributes to public sector scholarship and practice by using both subjective and econometric research methods to reveal how environmental contingencies and managerial activities influence the cost of public services within a production function framework. It finds that environmental cost factors affect total expenditures on fire protection, both directly and indirectly through their influence on managers.

Evidence is revealed that chiefs perceive and respond to various pressures from within and outside of their departments, and that chiefs can be grouped into distinct categories according to the harshness of the production and management environment they face. Further, key administrative behaviors such as performance assessment, records management, and leadership style are demonstrated to affect the cost of fire protection to citizens. This work also yields suggestive findings about the cost effectiveness of various fire service resource choices, such as using volunteers and specialized equipment.


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