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"As multiple devastating wildfires raged across California, a private firefighting crew reportedly helped save Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s home in Calabasas, TMZ reported this week. The successful defense of the $50 million mansion is the most prominent example of a trend that’s begun to receive national attention: for-hire firefighters protecting homes, usually on the payroll of an insurance company with a lot at risk.

The insurance companies AIG and Chubb have publicly talked about their private wildfire teams. AIG has its own “Wildfire Protection Unit,” while Chubb—and up to a dozen other insurers—contract with Wildfire Defense Systems, a Montana company that claims to have made 550 “wildfire responses on behalf of insurers,” including 255 in just the past two years. Right now in California, the company has 53 engines working to protect close to 1,000 homes.

The TMZ story feels uniquely 2018—financial capitalism, inequality, KimYe, the fires of Armageddon—and it is, for Americans at least.

“If the idea of private firefighting strikes us as an oddity nowadays, it should,” Benjamin Carp, a historian at Brooklyn College CUNY, told me. “While other societies throughout history have relied on private firefighting companies to protect the property of the upper classes … for the most part, we … have accepted the idea that fighting fire ought to be a public good.”

"...In the 19th century, there were obvious reasons for residents to fight fires all together. Great calamities of many kinds wiped out huge chunks of people and property within new industrial cities. The Stanford historian Richard White calls the rough-hewn communal politics of these urbanities “a democracy of defecation.” “Like feces and urine, neither fire nor disease respected property boundaries,” White wrote in The Republic for Which It Stands. “Water and sewer systems had to cover and protect everyone. Cities were like ships; they sailed, and sank, as a whole.”

And thus the first metropolitan fire services were born. Professionals, paid by the city, took over from the volunteers. They got a push from the new technological possibilities of steam engines, which reduced the need for human labor but required more specialized technicians to operate them. Pro firefighters were needed, and municipal governments centralized the power to wield them and the funds to pay them..."

Read full article at The Atlantic