Following new laws regulating fire safety, instigated in 1944, all municipalities in Sweden were obligated to organize fire protection, starting in 1945. However, the municipalities were not obliged to arrange their own fire department, but were instead free to close deals with other municipalities or with voluntary as well as private contractors.
Before 1945 only larger cities, ‘köpingar’, and certain specific municipalities were forced to organize a fire department. When new regulations were put into effect, Sweden was still divided into old municipalities (sockenkommuner), which remained until 1952. This study follows the development of fire protection in at the local level from 1945 until 1976 when a major merging of municipalities, which mostly remains until this day, took place.
The study has two principal aims. The first one is to describe and analyse how revised legislation and the merging of municipalities effected the organization of fire protection in Swedish municipalities. The second aim is to explore decision-making on fire protection at the municipal level. In addition to the fire laws of 1944, 1962 and 1974 the two reforms on the merging of municipalities (1952, 1962-74) were the important junctures during the 30 year period of investigation.
Between 1952 and 1976 the number of independent fire departments was reduced by almost 50 percent, and this has to be viewed as a major geographic centralization. This centralization, moreover, was facilitated by several factors. The most important was the reduction of industries, and the reduced population, in rural areas, as well as the technological innovations within agriculture. Furthermore, two additional reasons for this centralization were firstly that roads were significantly improved at the country-side, and, secondly, that the remaining fire fighting equipment, not least fire trucks, were modernized. The conflicts that emerged at the municipal decision-making arena often had a geographical dimension, meaning, among other things, that the personal residence of politicians often meant more to their decision than their respective party-affiliation. Furthermore, Swedish municipalities were allowed to proceed with the centralization in spite of far-reaching state control in the area of fire protection, resulting from the fact that ‘länsstyrelsen’ always had to approve of their organization of fire security. Nonetheless, relevant state agencies displayed a great flexibility vis-à-vis the municipalities during this process of change.
Stockholm: Stads- och kommunhistoriska institutet , 2009, 1. , 378 p.