Anarchism and the Fire Department

(4 am – promoted by ek hornbeck)

In my last post in my “Quotes for Discussion” series, I posted quotes from both 19th Century and current anarchists.  In response, both andgarden and Meteor Blades brought up the issues of private firefighters and private police forces.

While I didn’t mention it at the time, of course there are many private police forces.  And not simply mercenaries like Blackwater; anyone visiting a bank, a shopping mall, or a gated community is familiar with private security guards.  But I didn’t think there were private firefighters out there.  Naturally, I was wrong

“What we’re trying to do here is provide our policyholders an additional level of protection,” said Stan Rivera, director of wildfire protection for AIG Private Client Group. The average home insured by the unit is valued at $1.7 million.

AIG this year expanded its Wildfire Protection Unit to 150 ZIP codes in California and Colorado, up from 14 when it was formed in 2005. The unit has had the busiest week since its inception as fires burned at least 719 square miles (1,861 square kilometers) from Santa Barbara to San Diego, destroying 1,342 homes and 34 businesses and causing at least seven deaths.

The policyholders who AIG offers this service to are members of AIG’s Private Client Group, whose members pay AIG an average of $19,000 a year on insurance, and has about 50,000 members nationwide.  The private firefighters are employees of AIG’s Wildfire Protection Group, which services 150 zip codes in California and Colorafo.  They were deployed to 150 clients’ homes in California during the wildfires, “saving” between six to ten homes which they believe otherwise would have been destroyed.  In at least one case, an AIG firefighter also put out a fire threatening the home of a non-member of AIG’s Private Client Group, whose home neighbored that of a client.  The firefighters are hired from Firebreak Spray Systems, and Sam Crays, the employee interviewed in the Bloomberg article, is a volunteer firefighter in his community as well as working for AIG.

This begs the question: is this a success for private fire departments?  Obviously, the average American is not going to pay an additional $19,000 a year for protection from fire.  But, of course, this is for protection above and beyond that which taxes pay for.  Will the methods of AIG be copied and applied elsewhere?  Is there a moral problem with wealthy Americans purchasing a level of fire protection unavailable to the average American?  What does this mean when we have a national health care program?  And what does this portend for the level of government provided services that we actually need?

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    • Jay Elias on October 30, 2007 at 6:02 am
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    …although the last post wasn’t of much interest here, perhaps the follow-up will be.

  1. …why do I find the idea of private fire protection for wealthy socal residents in high risk zones to be, in an odd fashion, perfectly hilarious? 

    I don’t know…is this a private fire department in the sense that I might choose to subscribe to it or not, and let my home stand or burn, or a private fire department in the sense it works for large insurance companies?  In that sense, we could pay for health insurance by making life insurance the manditory policy…life insurance companies would hire doctors to follow us around…

  2. Forgive me if others have pointed this out elsewhere, but–especially if you live in or near an old, inner-city locale–you might have noticed that some, especially old, “historic” residences have a faded “shield” on the front of the house.

    Beginning at least in the 19h century, those shields were used to denote a specific fire “company.”

    The home owner was given the shield to denote that the house had subscribed to a speciic fire “company.”  And houses had differnt shields, as there were different fire “companies” competing for business in the major cities.  (That’s why, even to this day, fire stations are usually denoted as “Engine Co. Number X.”

    In the old days, a fire “company” might race off to a house fire.  Upon arrival, they would first look for their “company” shield on the front of the house.  If their “company” shield wasn’t there, well, too bad.  The fire “company” would pack up their gear and leave.  If the homeowner was lucky, a competing fire “company” might arrive at the scene and agree to fight the fire in the absecnce of their own “company” shield (for a price, of course).

    So, in this sense, privatization of fire/police/public-safety functions is a “restoration” by the usual suspects of yet another necessary public service to the way it was in “the good old days.”

  3. I’m off my feed lately.

    good promotion.

    and thanks, Jay. This is one of those topics for discussion that has no real resolution, I think. Kinda like charter schools vs. public, private schools.

    But of course that’s how I equate the issue, as a former teacher.

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