private firefighters and what they mean

It seems that some wealthy folks out in California were able to save their mansions from the all-consuming wildfires by calling in private firefighters outfitted with a flame-retardant chemical foam. Of course, not everyone could afford that. A similar thing happened in New Orleans, if you’ll recall. The wealthy, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, hired private security firms like Blackwater, to safeguard their homes… So, while the average people, like me and you, had to rely on the local police, these folks did not. I think that’s pretty clearly the direction we’re moving in as a country. Public schools, fire departments and the police are no longer for everyone. More and more, they’re just for us lowest common denominator chumps. The level of service provided to the masses doesn’t matter to the wealthy. They have access to better. All that matters to them is that their taxes are kept low and that, if need be, there are private security firms to protect them from us.

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  1. Ol' E Cross
    Posted November 7, 2007 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    As it happens, someone today recommended in the comments section of the A2 News that we each hire private trash removers to save police and fire.

    (Although, I have to agree with them on one point, I don’t want “loose” police officers and firefighters … keep it in your pants public safety folk.)

    Ah, thank union household’s gods we were spared a regressive tax.

  2. Hillary
    Posted November 8, 2007 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    You won’t have to worry about private firefighters because they are against the law in Michigan. A Hamtramckan already tried it:

  3. Tommy
    Posted November 8, 2007 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    I have a brother-in-law in New Jersey who is part of his county’s (not sure if thats the right designation) volunteer fire department. As I understand it, most small communities in the state have trained volunteers who run the fire fighting operations. This would not be a bad thing to consider in terms of cost savings without sacrificing vital services. The fact is that it can and does work. Unconventional for sure; controversial perhaps as this state still is pretty union heavy (I sure the firefighters has a union, don’t they) – but it’s a tested idea that could suit the community well. Let EMU pay for their own fire coverage, however – they don’t pay taxes for anything anyway.

  4. Posted November 8, 2007 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Tommy, is your in-law’s volunteer fire fighter gig actually unpaid? That’d be unusual in my experience – the “volunteer” fire fighters I know aren’t volunteer-as-in-free, just volunteer-as-in-not-full-time. When the call comes in, they get up from dinner, drive to the station, and suit up before going out on the call – and getting paid for it.

    It’s not inconceivable that a volunteer system could provide an adequate level of service at a lower price, but it would by no means be free, and “adequate” would have to be defined as a lower level than currently, due to the on-call nature of the arrangement.

    But nor do I think it’s necessarily “unconventional” or “controversial” – most of the places I’ve lived, Michigan or elsewhere, have had volunteer FD systems (but Ypsi’s by far the fastest response time I’ve lived with), and my father-in-law (a GM union man) is a Detroit area volunteer firefighter. So, sure, the City’s unions would probably resist the idea (yes, the FD is unionized), but it’s not as if it’s unheard of in Michigan – pretty common in smaller towns, as far as I can tell.

    Meanwhile, I believe we’re required by state law to provide fire service to EMU, regardless of what our system is, and they’re required to pay us. But it’s easier for them to renege on this – if they don’t pay us, nobody dies. (At least not immediately.)

  5. Posted November 8, 2007 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    I spent a significant amount of time analyzing privatization of transportation and its effects on our public schools starting about a year ago. What amazed me was how quick career administrators provided reams of information, analysis and depth on how much money could be saved on one hand, but on the other hand couldn’t answer a single question about the details of how it would work and what it would look like.

    To sum up what I learned, it tends to be perceived as a panacea by those who want to save money, deal with personnel problems and reduce responsibility for providing that service, but when one really looks long and hard at what it may look like in a few years, what some of the consequences may be under both a best case and worst case scenario, the utopian view of privatization crumbles.

    You can read my thoughts here.

  6. amused1
    Posted November 8, 2007 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I’m so glad someone brought up the idea of a VFD.

    Coming from a family of VFD members in my home town I know that the rank and file fire fighters were fully volunteer, unless you count wings, pizza and sandwiches as salary. I do remember that the Chief and one part time administrative position were paid.

    There were required duty hours for maintaining equipment, dispatch and the firehouse as well as for training. In that community funding was both public and private. “Field Days” and “Fireman’s Picnics” were common and well attended fundraising events bringing in locals as well as folks from neighboring towns.

    And speaking of neighboring towns, there was a great deal of cooperation between local VFDs. Joint coverage areas on the borders were the norm and certain buildings: schools, hospitals and such automatically triggered “on call/stand by” alarms to adjacent towns.

    It’s been decades since I tasted my Aunt Mary’s firehouse bbq chicken and my mouth still waters at the thought. The thing I don’t miss? the “squawker” going off at 3 am waking the entire household so my dad and brother could go out on a call.

  7. Ol' E Cross
    Posted November 8, 2007 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Paid or unpaid, don’t VFDs usually operated in lower density areas that don’t have enough fires to warrant full-time service? It’d be easy enough to see if this is feasible in Ypsi by looking at how many calls YFD responds to. (I doubt you’ll find many volunteers willing to make several runs a day.)

    I also wonder if VFDs are equipped to deal with things like the 2003 chemical spill at Marsh Plating. And, slower response means less lower density areas where a fire has less chance of spreading from home-to-home.

  8. Ol' E Cross
    Posted November 8, 2007 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Oh, and I’m pretty sure having a VFD would kill any mutual aid agreements with the surrounding communities.

  9. amused1
    Posted November 8, 2007 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Good questions Ol E. Yes, overall density was/is lower than Ypsi. There were 4 VFD stations in my town whose population is about 120K with about 46k homes on a total of 53 sq/miles. Per sq/mi avg is 880 homes and 2188 persons.

    The numbers are a bit deceiving as there was a large amount of light industrial, commercial, farming, parkland and an extensive state university campus in town.

    I can’t think of any houses that had a .75 acre lot (the statistical average). Most lots were more like .13 to .15 acres. Yeah, you could borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbor without leaving the house. Well, maybe not quite. But I do have a childhood memory of my mom throwing cigarettes to our neighbor from our bedroom window to their side door. (All together now, “You can take Salem out of the country BUT….”)

    Population was focused in the town center where Main St looked much like MI Ave (though with more businesses), then mixed residential (though we had actual apt. buildings and duplexes not chip-chop houses that are called apt. buildings) transitioning into neighborhoods very much like Prospect Gardens, Normal Park or College Hgts.

    So yes, 4 VFD stations is pretty extensive but it had a lot to do with the geographic area to be covered. Town center itself was covered by 1 firehouse.

    Anyway, that’s my experience for what it’s worth. I’d be curious to hear from others.

  10. Hillary
    Posted November 8, 2007 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I’m reasonably certain that there is only one volunteer department left in Michigan. The majority are paid-on-call with full-timers manning the station. Property insurance ratings are partially determined by staffing levels. Every commercial building in town will see an increase if the rating drops, and if it drops far enough, all the residential insurance rates will increase as well.

  11. LED bottom
    Posted November 8, 2007 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    You forgot tap water. Who gives a fuck about the quality of the water that the poor are getting through their pipes as long as we have access to Aquifina, Poland Springs, and whatever the fuck else?

  12. Ol' E Cross
    Posted November 9, 2007 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    A lesson in how to deal with public safety cuts from the City of Pontiac.

    It provides a starker contrast to see one neighbor’s home burn while the other is protected by private firefighters, but if you consider how well-policed Pontiac’s neighbors are, if you remember watching a city block in Highland Park burn down on live TV a year or so ago, it’s evident we’re already there. Government has become just another service provider where instead of getting the services they need, citizens just get the services they can afford.

  13. elviscostello
    Posted November 11, 2007 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    On the Volunteer issue. Superior Township had paid on call firefighters until recently, when they eliminated them, as the cost of providng training, and the lack of volunteers made it impossible to continue. Paid on call firefighters have to meet training standards, just like full-time firefighters, and they have to have a job which will allow them to leave when the tones go off. Those problems, as well as the fact that most people work farther away from their homes than ever, makes it difficult to manage. Locally, Augusta Township, has one of the most active paid on call departments, with members involved in County-wide shared services like Hazmat and Tech Rescue. However, they run about 400 runs per year, and there is a delay from toning out to leaving home or work, to going to the station for engine and equipment to arriving on scene, in which the fire doubles in size every 30-60 seconds, depending on the study. A delay in occupied buildings like EMU dorms, frat houses, apartment buildings, could be disastrous.

    Also, I’d like to add this thread from an earlier post responding to Demosthenes regarding YFD cuts since the tax failed.


    The idea of consolidation/automatic mutual aid/ or anything else you want to call it would be for safer, more effective fire grounds. Fore example, When YFD pulls up to a structure fire (let’s use a house, not Marsh Plating or Chidester Place, which have unique hazards and problems), they have four or five, if the Yellow Bird Rescue is out, then three. The NFPA says that you can’t start interior firefighting without “2 in, 2 out”, meaning 2 inside, and 2 outside, ready to go in if the sh*t hits the fan, to rescue or assist. YTFD has a minimum of 9 on duty at any time, 4 at YTFD HQ (Ecorse and Ford Blvd.), 2 at #3 (Hewitt/Congress, and 3 at #4 (Textile and Tuttle Hill). If they get a structure fire, they would only have 2 firefighters if it’s the west side of town arrive first (which happened recently at the Apartment Complex at Congress and N. Congress). One Firefighter mans the Engine, to run the Pump, grab equipment, ask for help “hooking a hydrant”, looking for people on balconies, etc…while the other must decide if he can put out the fire from a safe position (doorway, window, etc…). Unless a life is at risk (and how can you really tell at any time whether someone is inside, unconcious, etc)…the “nozzleman” is not supposed to go in by himself. For as long as I can remember, the firefighters have done so, putting themselves at greater risk. The next engines show up 4-6 minutes later, coming from their stations, and make entry, etc…
    Last January, the Township Board decided, due to the concerns of the Fire Department and spurred by the fire deaths in West Willow, to temporarily add one extra “slot” to station 4, which covers 17.5 sq. miles of homes, lake, industrial plants, schools, apartments, shopping centers, and high speed roads. That brought the daily staffing of that station to 3 firefighters. Now they have 1 to handle the pump, hydrant, etc…while two can start to make entry (still is not NFPA compliant), while the other trucks are 4-6 minutes or more away. So back to your question, who is understaffed? Both departments are. To be more effective, to be safer, to provide a better attack on a fire, on arrival when it is the smallest, both departments should be bigger. The AMA agreement was to get everyone rolling, and have more hands at the fireground. As a matter of fact, YFD, in some areas would beat the YTFD backup units to the south side of YT, to assist the southside station. The westside YTFD station would be scant minutes away from helping YFD on a fire anywhere east of River St. Now why the problem? If Ypsilanti does not keep up their manpower level, why would Ypsilanti Township supplement Ypsi City fire services? If Ypsi City cuts firefighters, what do they bring to the table? Township residents pay a tax rate for firefighters and the board has decided what that will be (however, it must be said that the YT board has cut fire millages from 1979-2007 to send to other township departments, especially police. The fire department had 36 personnel in 1979, running 1200 runs. Today they have 33 personnel running almost 4000 runs!). All this does not even address the issue of medical responses. If YFD does not run on medicals anymore, who do you expect to handle cardiac arrests, vehicle accidents which need Jaws of Life, overdoses, burns, childbirths? HVA is a good provider, but what happens when you need EMS and all their units are tied up? How long do you want to wait for a unit to get there and help? My dad used to say that you get what you pay for, if you “short” public safety, your fire losses get larger, people suffer unnecessarily, and I believe the quality of life in the community suffers.

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