Station Pride Articles

Private Fire Service, Reporting for Duty!

Privatized Fire Service.  A term that strikes fear into the hearts of the true and traditional Fire Service members.  The concept and practice has been getting a lot of bad press lately, and rightly so.  However, I’m not here to fear monger and spread panic on the practice.  I feel that if operated correctly, private fire departments can be beneficial.  I also feel that there is a very fine and difficult line to walk.

First and foremost: I believe the majority of firefighters in private services are much like us. Private firefighters are on duty providing a service to their community and not just for the paycheck.  But I do believe a profit driven Fire Service doesn’t hold true with the heart and mindset of the Fire Service.

Fire Mark

Here’s a brief history of the privatized Fire Service.  Privatized fire service started in the 18th and 19th century with the use of Fire Marks.  These signs were placed on the buildings who’s owners purchased a company’s fire insurance.

When responding to a fire, these fire insurance companies would see their fire mark on the building and extinguish the blaze. This is a similar type of concept that private fire companies in our age are using, albeit, an outdated concept because it disregards the interests of humanity in favor of a bottom-line.

I see the financial benefits of a privatized company.  It can save a municipality thousands of dollars and yes, maybe even operated more efficiently by an experienced business man.  However, these things should not be the primary focus of the Fire Service.  I strongly believe that when our priority shifts from community service to profit margins, that’s when we lose our identity as a Fire Service.  Our priorities have always been life safety, incident stabilization and property conservation.  That should never change and most definitely, money should never show up on that list.

The dangers of a privatized fire service are many and deadly.  Subscription based and competitive based private fire companies are often put in a position to refuse services.  As we’ve seen time and time again in recent news stories, for-profit fire companies show up on the scene of a home ablaze, and stand at the end of the driveway watching the show because the homeowner didn’t pay their annual fee or subscription.  Half the time the homeowner wasn’t aware the service existed and assumed they were covered through the taxes they paid yearly.  As firefighters, we should never be in a position to refuse service to anyone.  I feel that if you are able to look someone in the eye with their home burning in the background and say, “sorry ma’am/sir, you didn’t pay your annual fee.” , then you don’t belong in this line of work.  This job, my brotherhood, isn’t about the money, it’s about the service, and anything that sullies this principal is a affront to the brotherhood itself and what we stand for. This scenario is a deplorable breach of public trust and reflects poorly on all of us.

Response times are another issue.  While a municipal Fire Department may be within minutes of your home, the subscription based service may be several minutes away.  With current building construction and possibly even lives on the line, those minutes could be the difference between a life or home lost or saved.

Competitive fire fighting shouldn’t even be a term in our vocabulary!  Profit based firefighting breeds competition with municipal and private companies alike.  Mutual aid is a mindset every department should have in the modern culture of the fire service.  We should never be afraid to ask for help from our neighboring brothers and sisters!  Being in competition with these other departments as a private service breeds resentment along with that competition and puts the firefighters at unnecessary risk.

Who regulates the costs and fees and keeps them from becoming astronomical?  In a recent news article, i read how a family was charged a nearly $20,000 bill for firefighting services  on a home that was burned completely to the ground.  Read the full news article here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/08/justin-purcell-fire_n_4242734.html.  For a period until legislation and regulation can be put into effect by local, state, or federal governments, what is to stop these companies from charging an arm and a leg to provide the same service your taxes usually cover?  Even more so, some of these companies don’t even have to follow the same standards and levels of professionalism and licensing that the municipal departments have to hold to.

Another problem comes from when management is profit/business driven and employees are service driven.  When the upper and lower employment levels have two different missions, it’s difficult to run an efficient department.  A car drives best when all the wheels are spinning in the same direction.  How can we all accomplish the same goal when our goals are different?

Privatization, when done wrong, is deadly. Without proper goals, regulation, and mindset, two results will occur:  you will have a failed business on your hands or you will kill someone.

 Now it’s time to hear your voice.  I want to hear your opinions, experiences and takes on the privatization of the fire service.  I ask that you comment on the Facebook post or the story itself and tell me what you think!

About Jonathon Jacobs (7 Articles)
Jon grew up in the fire service. His father was a firefighter for 17 years, thus cultivating his love of the emergency services. Straight out of high school, Jon joined the military as a Navy Hospital Corpsman, volunteering as an 8404 Fleet Marine Force Hospital Corpsman. He was with 1/24 Marine Reserve unit out of MI for a short time before volunteering for a deployment to Iraq with 3/24 in 2009. Since coming home and finishing his military service, he has worked in multiple family practice, ER’s and urgent cares before getting licensed as an EMT-B and settling into his passion of Fire/EMS.

3 Comments on Private Fire Service, Reporting for Duty!

  1. As a Firefighter who works for a private fire department I would like to convey some information about our department I don’t know if this holds true for all private services but here it goes. We are a not profit organization. We are subscription based as those in our area pay no fire tax, that being said we respond to all calls the same regardless of subscription status the only ones who know subscription status are the billing office. If we respond to a house fire that ends up being a non subscriber the insurance company is then billed for the response. We are an ISO class III department and all of our stations are with in 5 mi of their furthest coverage. Per county contract our response time must be with in 7 mins of tones. For the most part we function just as a municipality would except that we are governed by a board of directors instead of a city council

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  2. Not to up on the private side of service but do see the staffing and equipment issues of the traditional fire department. Layoffs and short staffing is the normal these days that we all face in the fire service.

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  3. The “tradition” and “brotherhood, there is a municipality in my area, IAFF union department got called to a fire that was in a neighboring district, sat at the district border and watched the house 75 feet away burn. No one is perfect.

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