This classification covers government establishments primarily engaged in fire fighting and other related fire protection activities. Government and private establishments primarily engaged in forest fire fighting and fire protection services are classified in SIC 0851: Forestry Services. Private establishments primarily engaged in other fire-fighting services are classified in SIC 7389: Business Services, Not Elsewhere Classified.
Public fire departments responded to 1.73 million fires in 2001, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). At 6,196, civilian deaths in 2001 were significantly higher than the previous year (4,045). However, this total included 2,451 people who were killed during the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. Had that tragic event not have occurred, the number of civilian deaths from fires would have decreased from the previous year. Property damage directly caused by fire increased steadily during the late 1990s and rose from $10.0 billion in 1999 to $11.2 billion in 2000. However, in 2001 these damages skyrocketed to $44 billion because of the events of September 11. In fact, 76 percent of the damages recorded in 2001 ($33.4 billion) were attributed to the September 11 attacks.
Fire incidence in major cities was at its peak during the civil unrest of the 1960s and 1970s. However, overall trends have been downward since the late 1970s. The number of fires fell from 3.3 million in 1977 to 2.3 million in 1987 and 1.8 million in 1997. This decrease is due in part to improved fire code enforcement, mandatory sprinkler and smoke alarm laws, an increase in the utilization of other fire prevention methodologies, and innovations in fire-fighting technology.
Even today, though, the United States has the highest fire death rate of any industrialized country. Researchers have linked this fact to a difference in attitudes, pointing out that families who experience fire loss are ostracized in countries such as Japan and Holland. Fire departments in other countries also tend to devote a much larger portion of resources to prevention rather than suppression.
According to statistics, there were 5,907 fire protection public fire departments representing 21.3 percent of the overall industry with an estimated 130,040 fire fighters in the United States in 2005. The public fire protection sector generated revenues of an estimated $8 million, while the entire fire protection industry posted revenues of $15.9 million. Another 5,598 accounted for 20.2 percent of the fire department sector, with 138,159 fire fighters. Fire department volunteers represented 53.7 percent of the market with 14,903 establishments and 291,183 volunteer fire fighters, while posting $7.1 million in revenues.
Fire departments have two basic fire-related functions: prevention and suppression. Fire prevention activities aim to keep fires from starting. Fire suppression activities seek to put out fires once they have started, to rescue individuals, and to protect property from the paths of fires. More and more, fire departments also operate emergency medical services and air crash services that relate only tangentially to the problems of fires in structures.
In most urban areas of the United States, the fire-fighting service is primarily the responsibility of the local government. In suburban and rural areas, either independent voluntary organizations or profit-making firms may provide the service instead. Most professional fire departments today have a past...