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Social Capital and Fire Service Performance: Evidence from the U.S. States


  • *Direct correspondence to Rhys Andrews, Cardiff University, Cardiff Business School, Colum Drive, Cardiff, CF10 3EU, Wales, UK 〈〉 or to Gene A. Brewer, Department of Public Administration and Policy, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602–1615 〈〉. Rhys Andrews will provide all data and coding information for those wishing to replicate the study. We thank three anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier drafts.


Objective. The present study evaluates whether areas with high levels of social capital are likely to have better fire service performance.

Method. Utilizing Robert Putnam's 14-measure index of social capital, OLS regression techniques are applied to objective data on the rate of unintentional fire deaths in the U.S. states between 1980 and 2003.

Results. The findings show that social capital is associated with a low unintentional fire death rate, even when controlling for a range of important environmental constraints. However, the effects of social capital vary by its conceptual components.

Conclusions. The study supports the argument that social capital is likely to be an important determinant of fire service outcomes, and suggests that the political engagement and social trust components may be the most important focus for public policies seeking to build social capital in order to reduce fire fatalities.