The Rise of the Privately Contracted Firefighter

Jun 2014
Cleveland, Ohio
MURRIETA, Calif. – Privately contracted firefighters – who work alongside the many California, municipal, county and federal firefighter crews that respond to wildfires across the state – aren't just a luxury for the rich.

While the federal government has been using their services for years, these crews are hired by insurance companies to provide services to homeowners, free of charge, as part of their homeowner's insurance policy.

The contractors, who are working the Tenaja Fire in the Copper Canyon community of Murrieta, provide a wide range of services, from fire sensor installation, to vegetation management, to fire-suppressing foams, and in some cases, engage in actual firefighting.

One such private firefighting company – Wildland Defense Services – had been hired by United Services Automobile Association policyholders.

Ken Kirk, who works with Firebreak Protection Services, said he and his co-worker were checking on roughly 10 houses in Copper Canyon. The crew was in a truck loaded with a tank of fire retardant, a pressure hose and computers.

Tenaja Fire: Southern California fire grows to 2,000 acres; evacuations expanded

Though a number of homeowners in the neighborhood had refused to evacuate, all Firebreak customers chose to leave their homes behind. Kirk said he isn't sure if his presence factored into their decisions to evacuate, but that Firebreak contractors are tasked with keeping houses safe, even when unoccupied.

The company has been serving the insurance industry, specifically homeowners, for nearly 14 years.

Initially, Kirk said, they checked on the perimeters of the homes to see whether they needed Phos-Chek, the chemical fire retardant, typically red, dropped by U.S. Forest Service airplanes.

Kirk and his co-workers had worked to save three homes from suffering major damage during the windiest part of Thursday.

"There was some small damage on the property, but nothing that affected the structures," he said.

The Tenaja Fire broke out about 4 p.m. Wednesday in La Cresta, a community perched above Murrieta that contains sprawling, multimillion-dollar estates about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

Service makes business sense for insurers
David Torgerson is the president and founder of Wildfire Defense Services. Initially his company took contracts for the federal government, but starting in 2008, he found an increased demand from the insurance industry to provide wildfire services to insurance company clients as part of their homeowner's policies.

To date, the company has responded to more than 600 wildfire incidents on behalf of the insurance industry, 130 of which were last year. The fires they've fought with their 400 wildland fire engines are easily recognizable: Thomas, Woolsey and Cranston.

Hate socialism? Ponder the spectacle of firefighters refusing to suppress a fire at your house because you are not wealthy.

Your thoughts?
May 2012
By the wall
Private firefighters have always existed, it's like hiring a bodyguard.

People still have access to public firefighters and always will. If someone wants to pay to have extra fire security then that is their choice. These guys are mostly preventive anyways..once the regular fire department shows up they have no authority.

They are like paid volunteers if that makes any sense.

Besides, people can often obtain reduced insurance rates by using them and in some areas that can be a huge savings.