Rich people in Northern California got better firefighting services, thanks to private insurers

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Hey, the guy who was the wealthiest non-emperor in Roman times, Marcus Licinius Crassus, made a lot of his money through private firefighting, at least according to Plutarch. Crassus’ system of “fire and rapine” involved sending a private fire brigade to a burning building and trying to negotiate a price from the building’s owner. If a price couldn’t be negotiated, he let the building burn and then offered to buy the ruin at a fraction of its value.


This is a good thing. Publicly funded firefighters can ignore mansions and focus on homes that are less protected.




@Headache, Surely, the true opportunist will look for a mansion surrounded by well insured properties and use them as a firebreak and get maximum freeloading out of the situation.


How is this different from people buying better sprinkler systems for their homes? These folks paid for additional service to protect their private property above what their taxes paid for. This doesn’t take anything away from the public effort to fight the fires, and actually adds to it by allowing the public fire fighters to focus elsewhere.


Or, maybe it will allow the wealthy to lobby for reductions in their taxes at the expense of firefighting services for the less well to do?


First off, the insurance company probably hires private firefighters to protect any home that they insure where the insured value is higher than the cost of hiring the firefighters, regardless of the income of the customer. That’s just good sense on their part.

And I doubt that they really need hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in labour to protect a house – really all you need are a crew to get in there ahead of the fire, slash and burn the yard to create a firebreak, and then 2-3 people to stay and keep the roof and siding damp while the fire burns through the area. Call it, what, $100k in labour, and then 2-3x that to cover hazardous duty pay.

Add a rider to the policy that says they don’t cover the value of landscaping lost in the event of a wildfire, and you’re going to be hard pressed to find a house where it won’t be cost effective for the insurance company to provide this service.

ETA, even if you add the costs of replanting the yard (say 100k), this is a cost effective thing for the company to do even for modest value homes (for California real estate values of modest). I’m surprised, really, that this is a new thing - in states at risk of wildfires they should have been doing something like this for a long time.


I think the historical perspective on this post is too narrow and the framing is unrealistic. Firefighting in cities used to be funded by insurance companies. As time went on, full-time professional firefighters became common. As the instance of structural fire has dropped due to building code changes, fire department have shrunk and been supplemented with mutual aid relationships. The other dynamic is that in areas where houses are separated by a lot of distance, the concern isn’t that fire will spread house-to-house. In rural dry areas, fire suppression is aimed at fuel control rather than houses. The number of people capable of being hotshots or smokejumpers is vanishingly small. Seasons are longer and more intense because of the amount of fuel available to the fire. With that intensity, the likelyhood that the fire can move tree to tree goes up. If you want someone to put out your house instead of controlling a 1000 acre wildfire, it’s going to cost you.


Snag: insurance company tries to maximize profits by also hiring a team of arsonists to stealthily promote their business, and perhaps justify raising rates – “Sorry sir, there have been a lot of fires in your area so your premiums are going up.”


True for the highly skilled people who do the fire suppression in the deep beyond - but I know that back in the day, they’d comb the skid rows and unemployment lines for folks to use a shovel or McLeod breaking the line against ground fires. That sort of cannon-fodder (‘pogies’ was the disdainful term that the professionals used) would be fine for quick-and-dirty clearing of vegetation away from someone’s house - you don’t need professional fire fighters for that.

The thing that makes firefighters expensive isn’t paying them to fight fires, it’s paying them and having their equipment READY to fight fires. Well trained people and expensive equipment and professionals expect to be paid whether or not there is a fire. Even if you managed to put together a crew from volunteers from out of the area, you’d still need to maintain equipment for them.

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Public fire companies arose because insurance companies were doing just that, and worse. (Think of one company hiring mercenaries to block a rival company’s fire fighters from accessing the burning building, and then extorting the building owner.)


Yeah, no. First off, as the recent downswing in vaccinations indicates, people are really dumb about the trade off between individual risk and herd risk. Fire is “communicable”, like a virus, and many houses are put at risk if we leave fire protection to individuals. Second, imagine the chaos of five different fire-fighting companies trying to manage their trucks, hoses, and hydrants on the same street, the whole block would burn down.


Thank you @kennykb . I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole now.

If we’re talking, literally, about their neighbors, wouldn’t the insurance firefighters jump in at that point to put out a fire if the neighbor fire poses a risk to the insured property? Or are we really saying they’d camp out and wait with all their gear at the property line?

Imagine trying to figure out who to call if your house is on fire: it’ll be like trying to call a doctor while trying to figure out who’s in-network while also trying to get the insurance company to pre-approve the services you need. While your house is on fire.

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Except that those public firefighters are getting de-funded as the moneyed interests migrate to the private model.


This is jaw-droppingly, mind-bendingly shitty. Wow. I didn’t think I could despair more today.

I doubt that private firefighters were used - when the Chubb system was deployed during the 2007 Malibu fires, crews arrived a day or more in advance of the flames, and hosed the policyholder’s houses down with a thick coating of a sticky fireproof foam.

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