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Private Firefighers for Rich Homeowners

The Southern California fire disaster has revealed another benefit of being rich: better protection against fires!

Insurance company AIG has a private client group, an elite program offered only to homeowners with properties valued at $1 million or more. During the firestorm, the company arranged private firefighters to come and protect the homes of its richest clients, one of whom said:

"Just picture it," said Moore, whose house was sprayed by Firebreak early Monday. "Here you are in that raging wildfire. Smoke everywhere. Flames everywhere. Plumes of smoke coming up over the hills. Here's a couple guys showing up in what looks like a firetruck who are experts trained in fighting wildfire and they're there specifically to protect your home. . . . It was really, really comforting."

No one's faulting homeowners for wanting to save their houses from fire, but is this a dangerous trend of preferential treatment for wealthy people in cases of emergencies?

"What we have is a dangerous confluence of events: underfunded states, increasingly inefficient disaster response, a loss of faith in the public sphere . . . and a growing part of the economy that sees disaster as a promising new market," said Naomi Klein, whose new book, "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism," looks at, among other things, the response to Hurricane Katrina.

Klein said AIG offers a glimpse into the future of what she calls "disaster apartheid," in which the affluent are better equipped for emergencies.

"You can't fault businesses for seeing an opportunity, and you can't fault individuals for wanting to protect their property. Pretty much anyone who could afford it would want it," she said. "But survival shouldn't be a luxury item."

LA Times has a really interesting report on a "concierge-level" fire protection for the rich: Link (Photo: Don Bartletti / LA Times)


It doesn't sound like preferential treatment to me. It sounds like a private company running a private program. What they do does not effect the regular fire department, or anyone else.

That's like saying that private doctors provide preferential treatment to paying patients in countries with socialist healthcare systems. They have socialist and private health care, just like we have social and private fire fighters, apparently.
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No one’s faulting homeowners for wanting to save their houses from fire, but is this a dangerous trend of preferential treatment of people based on wealth in cases of emergencies?

It would be only if these were publicly-supported firefighters, instead of privately-supported firefighters. This "preferential treatment" is going to people who specifically paid for it.
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it is preferential treatment. it is only offered to homeowners whose property is valued at over a million dollars.

i believe that's the very definition of "preferential."
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I agree with John, you get what you pay for. I'm sure these one million plus home owners aren't exactly paying for chump change on the fees. It's no different than, let's say, a first class airline passenger getting lots more bells and whistles and goodies compared to economy class.

Perhaps it was an attempt by the Times to stir the have and have not pot as usual, but sorry, as a struggling homeowner wracked with bills myself, I don't feel one bit that any of this is wrong.
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I'm with John here, you get what you pay for. It's no different than, let's say, a first class passenger getting bells and whistles and all sorts of extras compared to an economy class passenger.

If this is the Times' usual attempt to stir the have and have nots pot, it fails. Even I, as a struggling home owner with multiple bills, do not find this the least bit offensive.
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jenni is a moron.

PAYING for better service is NOT preferential treatment.

Also, in California, every other house is valued over a million dollars. AIG is simply providing relatively inexpensive preventative measure to protect it's interests. The results are less burned houses. Kind of like condoms in a gay bath house.
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I see nothing wrong with this. Private money, private property, private service. It would only be wrong if it were the governmental fire fighting agencies hiring themselves out to the highest bidder. AIG is just the first to provide this type of service but I would imagine in the future, homeowners will be able to hire fire fighting companies themselves. I can see entrepreneurs everywhere lining up to get in on this one.
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@paul: thanks, it read poorly (it was written late at night when I was sleepy), so I changed it a bit. Hopefully it reads better now.

Back to the point: as it was written in the LA Times article (and in the post), no one is faulting the homeowners for doing this - and no one is faulting the companies for filling a need. BUT, the question was is this a start of a dangerous trend of privatization what is considered a public service?

Okay, so if you agree with private firefighting services, what about "vouchers" for private firefighters if the public one is so bad? (Mirroring the debate over vouchers for school).

If private firefighters are okay, how about private police (and not just security guard)?
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Ok, so if I store water in jugs in my basement on my own initiative, and then there's some huge water shortage, so I use the jugs to water my lawn, am I getting "preferential treatment?"

Isn't this the same thing? These homeowners paid a company a premium so that when a fire occurred, they would have more fire fighting resources than homeowners who didn't pay that premium. Paying that premium was like my storing water, there's nothing wrong with it.
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During the Song Dynasty when they would have fires in the big cities like Hangchao, firefighters would charge people a fee if they managed to save your house.
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Guess the guy in Poway who lost his 7.5 mil home should have used these guys.

But really, I will trust our fire crews - they did a hell of a job.

And in areas that are built to strict fire codes like 4S Ranch, they didn't lose a single home. It is really all about defensible space.
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Well, what do you expect from the greatest Capitalism in the world?
We're free to buy what we want. That's it. That's all there is in USA.
People don't want to be run BY the government, so people buy what they want to run. As simple as that.
So, if you people don't buy stuff that helps to buy services - well that's how infrastructure is crumbling in the USA.
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Bob Smythe,

I am glad my mother taught me some manners, unlike you. there is a way to POLITELY diasagree with someone.
since you are clearly unable to do this, let me show you by defining preferential for you: showing preference.
This private service is limited to those with million dollar homes and a minimum of ten thousand dollars in insurance premiums. the difference between this, and say, a fist class airline ticket, is that me, you, and average joe can save our money and buy one. not everyone can buy this insurance.
so again, by definition, it IS preferential treatment.
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I don't think it's preferential treatment. The first-class TSA line at the airport, THAT's preferential treatment and pisses me off royally. My concern if this catches on: regular firefighters now have all these extra people in a fire zone they need to keep an eye out for. These contractors should sign a waiver that absolves local safety crews of any responsibility for looking out for their welfare if they go into a fire zone.
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"jenni is a moron.

PAYING for better service is NOT preferential treatment."

If everyone were allowed to purchase the insurance, you would be correct. Since it's only available to people with certain home values and insurance premiums,it is preferential. Had you read the article, you would have seen that it's only available in a few counties total.

Must I define preferential for you? The difference between this and, say, a first class airline ticket, is that ANYONE can save their money and buy one. This is clearly not the case with this insurance, hence making it preferential.

Now who's the moron?
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Around the turn of the century, some municipalities had for-profit Fire Departments. These firefighters would only fight fires for those who could and would pay for the job. One way to pay for the job was to have fire insurance.

For proof, the insurance companies had cast iron plaques made, and they'd install a plaque on the front of the house or business to show that the building owner had fire insurance that would pay the department for their efforts. Often, so the stories go, other companies would show up to the fire, but refuse to fight it if it wasn't their domain - or else they would, for a fee to be paid BEFORE they'd start fighting. The cast iron plaques are "collectible" today.

So, I guess this is just the modern extension of an old practice.
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Hmmm, private cops in your gated communities, privately run armies fuxing up your 'noble efforts to rebuild Iraq' (after fuxing it up in the first place), private medical industry ensuring multiple standards of healthcare depndent on wealth and now private firefighters for those who can foot the bill...

Simply super.
Way to build a caring and sharing society - don't know that all the private cops, mercenary firefighters and associated Mammon worshiping pirates in the world will make a bit of difference when your society falls apart under it's own inetia, but, meh, that's just me.
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Name-calling. I love the naive comparison with medical care, simply because Canada is struggling with that whole concept.

Universal health care is available, but there are waiting lines. If someone wealthy wants to jump the waiting line and get service right away from a private doctor, they have to go out of country. Some people would like to set up private health care in Canada, but others say it would be the end of public health care, since more doctors would go into the private system. The result would also be a 2-tier health care system: 1) those who can afford it, pay and live; 2) those who can't afford it, wait and possibly die.

The question here is: is anybody suffering because these people can afford to hire private firefighters?

Certainly all firefighters are making money no matter which houses they save, but should private firefighters be hired to protect certain houses and let others burn during a state of emergency?

Flies in the face of humanitarianism, but that's what capitalism is all about.
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Alex wrote:

If private firefighters are okay, how about private police (and not just security guard)?

There is a critical difference between police and firefighters. Police are tasked with enforcing law, which cannot be privatized in any society with even a nominal government. Firefighters do not enforce the law, but fight fires. They perform two very different tasks that cannot be conflated.
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Shh.. did you know the rich also get preferential treatment when it comes to buying homes that are valued over one million dollars? Honestly, I (somebody who is not rich) tried to buy a million dollar home. When they saw how I was a lowly middle class person, they would not provide a loan to buy this house. Think of the slippery slope this is? Gasp!

The success of others is socialism fodder. Get a grip!
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I appreciate Jenni's protestations, but her logic is skewed. Making a distinction between private fire protection and first-class ticket because "anyone" can save up the money for the ticket is just a question of scale (as well as simply untrue). Conceptually, it's the same. Both are available to those who can pay for them. And yes, I know private fire protection is only available in certain counties, but that's hardly a basis for claims of preferential treatment. If it were, I could complain that people who live in New Delhi get "preferential treatment" because the Indian food is better there than it is in my neighborhood.

So, on face value, I agree with people who don't think there's anything inherently wrong with this. It's a service that the homeowners are paying for, just like any other. The contractor who puts a new roof on my house isn't showing me "preferential treatment": he's just doing what I paid him to do. But: there is a larger issue lurking under the surface. Some people can pay for private fire protection for their absurdly large, opulent houses while others don't even have a roof over their head. I think it's safe to say that it takes preferential treatment, in many and varied forms, to create such broad divides between haves and have-nots.
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The fact is these private compete for resources with the public sector. They pay more and lure away experienced firefighters trained with tax dollars. The situation is not unlike private military contractors.
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The fact is these private compete for resources with the public sector. They pay more and lure away experienced firefighters trained with tax dollars. The situation is not unlike private military contractors.

linkmanager07@gmail.com
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What's the big deal? AIG (the insurance company) decided it's a whole lot smarter for them to hire teams to defend their clients' houses against burning down than paying out $20M or $30M or whatever on every one that goes up in smoke. This is all about the insurance company managing risk -- hiring that team to defend a $30 million house costs a WHOLE LOT less than $30 million. It sounds like AIG has some very smart folks working there. Kudos to them!
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Wow, it seems "ivan" and "robertbasler" think alike. VERY much alike. And both are clueless socialists. All the better if private firms compete for resources with government agencies! Said competition attracts BETTER people into the firefighting profession.

When ivan / robert has it his way, doctors will only be legally employed by the government as well, right? We can't have people paying them more to work in private practice, can we? We don't want them competing against the "public sector", whatever that is, do we? ;-P

Competition is good for everyone. Always.
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Sid, will you still think competition is "good for everyone, always" when your taxes go up so your local fire department can compete for firefighters with private firms?
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@c-dub-
My local fire department is all volunteer, so I don't think your question applies. Beer, a blue light on their cars, and a place to hang out away from their wives keeps them happy :-)

Getting past that, though... You are ignoring the fact that in the presence of competition, things re-equilibrate. If private fire-fighting firms exist, yes all firefighter wages would go up, but better people would be drawn into the profession as well. Additionally, there is not an inexhaustible demand for firemen. Hirings at private firms would also LESSEN THE NEED for as many government-employed firemen. In the unlikely event that private fire fighting became a large scale phenomenum, governments would scale back the size of their forces. (If half the homes in Mailbu had private fire service, the city fire department could be smaller). This alone would reduce expenditures, but it would also reduce the wage competition for the good people as well. In the end, you'd just see a shift of some portion of the firefighting work force from public to private sector and probably a net savings to the taxpayer. It's hard to prove that in advance of course, but that is the net result whenever other government services are opened up to private competition -- the work gets done better and cheaper and the public benefits.

Very few services really should remain in the domain of the government: I would argue that these include the military (I am rather uneasy about growing reliance on Blackwater-type contractors... we should be able to pay our best military guys much more, especially those in the most dangerous service), the police, and the court system.

Economics... it's more than an idea; it's the law.
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Interesting description, Sid, thanks -- but I don't think it would quite play out as you've described it. You're assuming the work of a "private firefighter" is the same as that of a "public firefighter," which isn’t the case. The private crews protect individual properties, and do little or nothing to knock down the larger fire. There’s no substantial lessening of need in that scenario: the same requirements exist for public firefighters to actually fight the fire, rather than merely defend specific properties.

One other thing I don't follow: how would this scenario "also reduce the wage competition for the good people as well"? (And after you’re done explaining that, explain why reducing wage competition would even be a goal – I thought competition was good for everyone, always…)
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The problem I see is that capitalism is not perfect, it is not a level playing field, it never will be. Humans are preferential animals, preferring the company of those similar to themselves, which is why there are laws against discrimination based on race, sex, religion, etc. This is the reason many necessary services continue to be handled by government agencies, so that the risk of discrimination, for whatever reason, is limited. Before you start, it doesn't work perfectly, once again, humans aren't perfect, but everyone has the right to vote, while only a few have the money to buy these services outright.

Right now, due to the uneven and unfair tax cuts favoring the wealthy in our society, the wealthy can afford even more of these private services. We should have learned by now that trickle down does not work. It didn't work 20 years ago; it will never work. If these homeowners were paying their fair share of taxes, there would have been a lot more money for the fire services that would have benefited all the citizens, not just the wealthy.

Blackwater is an excellent example. Because they do not answer to government oversight and regulation in the same way as our troops, they easily abuse and murder and are creating a situation that is putting our troops at risk. Compare it to the LAPD.

Starting in the 70s, when the LAPD was being turned into a quasi-military organization due to the city government's failing to maintain its control, it only worsened violence. Removing the beat cops and replacing them with armored officers in armored cars created a schism that will never be fixed. If the city government had properly watched over the force, preventing the discrimination that inevitably followed, it's possible that the gang activity that has since spread throughout the country could have been slowed significantly and/or limited.

Privatizing fire services could result in firefighters who simply do not answer calls in neighborhoods they prefer to avoid. What will happen? Someone could sue them, maybe, if there's a lawyer willing to take the case on contingency in the hope of deep pockets. What if there aren't deep pockets? What is the company simply denies everything and stymies the case in court for years? And it won't bring back the dead.
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