Gilded Age watch: America's firefighting is turning into a two-tier system, with private services for the 1%

Finally, a reality TV show I’d actually watch!

Add “protecting national borders” and you have to totality of government responsibility in Ayn-land.


My father, product of a Catholic education through college, married to a Catholic schools teacher, and father of 5 Catholic schools attending children, was fond of (facetiously) arguing for a Catholic Fire Department. The next thing these people with privately contracted fire departments will want, though, is a voucher system so they can avoid also paying for the publicly funded fire departments.

As for the old-timey negotiations with firefighters while your house burns, my father also once sold a rental house while it was burning. The neighbor was out on the sidewalk watching it burn, and told my father he’d always wanted to buy the place. Dad told him it was for sale. The guy went and got the cash to buy it, paid Dad, and Dad told him, “Well, it’s your house that’s on fire, now. I’m going home.”


Many of the California firefighters are prisoners paid $2 an hour while waiting in the fire camp, $3 an hour when actually risking their lives fighting the fire. Two have died already.


“neoliberal policies and inequality are reducing the budgets for public fire-suppression”

Neoliberal policies? In my lifetime I’ve only seen conservatives cut the budgets for firefighters. Are you saying that Rudy Giuliani is a neoliberal?

Well it’s not so long ago that we had

private firefighters working on behalf of insurers

For most of the 18th century, each insurance company maintained its own fire brigade, which extinguished fires in those buildings insured by the company and, in return for a fee to be paid later, in buildings insured by other companies.

(My bold.)

The first one in the UK was formed in 1710. So we’re already 300 years back towards Crassus…


Also, the statement

Public firefighting has been part of America since its inception, a repudiation of the English custom of firefighting services provided on the basis of wealth, usually by insurance companies.

may be partly true insofar as there may always have been some public firefighting but the “English custom” was far from repudiated, it seems.

American fire marks

Fire Insurance has over 200 years of history in America. The early fire marks of Benjamin Franklin’s time can still be seen on some Philadelphia buildings as well as in other older American cities. Subscribers paid fire fighting companies in advance for fire protection and in exchange would receive a fire mark to attach to their building. The payments for the fire marks supported the fire fighting companies. Volunteer fire departments were also common in the United States, and some fire insurers contributed money to these departments and awarded bonuses to the first fire engine arriving at the scene of a fire.[3]

(Again, my bold.)


It’s not entirely relevant, but house fires (not wild fires) has been on a downward trend for decades. This is primarily because of increasing safety standards (Yay big government!). But it does mean that urban fire fighters rarely fight actual fires now.

I would be perfectly fine with downsizing the number and size of urban fire departments (and perhaps replacing them with other, more necessary services (like ambulance and social).

My point is that cutting firefighting spending makes sense in some cases.

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And if that fails


And then we set them on fire?

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“National borders”. How quaint.

Or, in other words,

Libertarianism: Fuck you, I got mine.


Much like health care, eh?


I’d bet these private firefighting services look a lot more like the last link than actual full fire brigades. It doesn’t take all that much to prevent a property from burning; proper set backs from the woods and a gap between the house and vegetation plus fire resistant roofing with a water system wetting down any risky parts of the structure would be enough.

We very much have it within our power today to have both these towns in natural areas and houses that survive wildfires. It’s just more expensive to regulate that every building be able to survive a fire than it is to just rebuild to few that do get burned down.

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Not to mention the “you can’t tell me what to do” knee-jerk response you would get from so many of the homeowners.

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… without recognizing the irony of California telling Colorado homeowners they can’t capture the rainwater falling through their own downspouts because it’s already promised to California water systems.


I think the theory is that contract law is self-enforcing. If you default on the contract, no one will ever want to do business with you again, the market equivalent of “None of the other kids will want to play with you.” Of course, the fact that you can have deep-pocketed businessmen with a long history of ripping off suppliers and fighting them in court to prevent them claiming what they were contractually owed, and that these businessmen can go on to become president continue to do this suggests that this mechanism doesn’t work very well.

Mind you, libertarians would most likely argue that if you make a contract with a known defaulter, you deserve everything you get: not just in a caveat emptor way, but because by failing to do your due diligence and punish bad actors by withholding your custom, you’re undermining the whole mechanism that’s supposed to keep society running smoothly, and therefore you are the problem. Libertarians don’t apparently spend too much time worrying about the real-world exigencies that cause people to make bad deals even when they know they’re bad deals.

Of course, if everything in society hinges on contracts (all except the social contract, which is a pernicious fable), then contract lawyers start to assume extraordinary importance as the guarantors of your rights. Oddly, libertarians have been slow to adopt my suggestion that they could win converts to their philosophy by using the catchy slogan: “And the lawyers shall set you free!”


It’s a little bit like the theory that murder law is self-enforcing. After all, if you murder other people, someone might murder you!* Come to think of it, all requirements that we behave well to one another are self-enforcing. I guess that’s why no one ever does anything bad.

* I recognize a better analogy is that if you murder people then people won’t hang out around you and so you’ll have no one left to murder. That’s actually what this theory is suggesting.


It’s not really ironic. The people inconvenienced by that can’t vote against the politicians in California preventing them from capturing rainwater so it’s perfectly safe politically where a code change to make houses more fire proof wouldn’t be.