Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A PRIVATELY-OWNED FIRE DEPARTMENT MEANS GREATER SAFETY FOR ALL

AMERICAN ENTREPRENEURS' SERIES

By : Mr. F. Harrison Feuerbach, M.B.A., C.P.A., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Wellstone Solutions & Financing Co., Inc. (a Delaware Corporation specializing in service to private-sector incursions into public markets) (1991-present); Member, the Princeton Club of Greater Washington, D.C. (1975-present); Spokesman, Investors for Freedom, a private-interest organization committed to deregulation and economic self-sufficiency (2003-present); Antique Coin Collector; Owner, Harry's Red-Hot Frank Stand (1983-present), Chicago, IL; Victoria's Secret Enthusiast.

It is hard to read the newspaper without encountering a story about brave firefighters. We hear about daring rescues and self-sacrifice. We hear about fearless men who risk everything to pull children away from deadly flames. We even hear touching tales about firefighters who save treasured pets from certain death. On 9/11, firefighters' sacrifices elevated them to near-mythic status in our society. In New York, they even publish a calendar in which they model their flawless bodies for all to admire. Put simply, firefighters enjoy hero status.

People like firefighters because they fight for everyone. They do not distinguish between rich and poor. They risk their lives to save people from burning buildings. That is a noble enterprise. And they do it because it is "a public service." The public likes firefighters because they think firefighters are "working for them," not just for a paycheck. There is a "firefighter spirit" that many find extremely appealing. After all, most people in life just want more money. Firefighters, by contrast, take fulfillment from saving lives, not expanding their bank accounts.

But do you have any idea how expensive it is to maintain a fire department? Fire trucks and fire stations cost money. Every time a fire truck goes out on a call, it costs hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. Every time an ambulance hauls some burn victim to the hospital, that's another few hundred grand. And that's not all. Just keeping firemen fed and ready costs a fortune--those guys can eat. In this sense, while people may admire firefighters for their public service, they sure are paying for it.

In the final analysis, we maintain fire departments because we trust them to keep us safe. Expressed in market terms, fire departments sell safety and safety-related services. If a fire department cannot keep us safe, it is not doing its job. A fire department is "good" if it delivers effective safety-related services in a timely manner. That is really what it's all about. All the mythology and hero worship are really just secondary to the main issue: Selling safety.

In America, it is always more efficient to entrust market activity to private actors. Yet for some reason, municipalities all over the country have decided that fire departments should survive on the public dole. This makes no sense. If municipalities want greater safety, they should open up the market to private entrepreneurs who can compete to deliver more safety to the buying public. At the same time, when private entrepreneurs compete, they have a direct financial interest in satisfying the consumer. That leads to greater innovation and development. Think about it: Because firefighters never faced private competition, they just kept using the same fire-fighting technology that their great-great-grandfathers used: They just spray water on them. But if private firms compete to fight fires, who knows what miraculous new fire-squelching technologies they will discover.

It is time to break the hypnosis surrounding public fire departments. It is time for innovation and customer satisfaction. It is no excuse to say that fire departments have "always been public organizations." In America, we do not rely exclusively on tradition to light our way on modern questions. Rather, when it comes to product delivery, we trust the market. Fire departments deliver a product to market. There is no reason why private firms should not have a chance to deliver a better one at a better price. When they do, the public will receive better fire protection. Consumers will also have greater choice in deciding which fire companies to hire for their safety needs. And firefighters will have a real financial interest in putting out fires. What better way to motivate a fireman to put out a fire than to promise him a healthy profit for a job well done?

We believe that private fire departments will stop fires far better than public ones. No longer will citizens wait for fire trucks to show up. No longer will they tolerate antiquated firefighting methods. And no longer will they pay exorbitant taxes to sustain outmoded "public servants." In a word, when private enterprise competes for business in any area, the public always wins. In this case, the public will benefit from competition in fire protection because the public will be safer. Hiring private fire departments is the answer.

We recognize that it will take some time for the public to adjust to private fire protection. After all, people are accustomed to free public fire protection services. When their houses catch fire, they expect the fire department to show up, put out the fire and charge in to save their lives. They do not expect a bill for those services. After the fire, they simply thank their rescuers. Then they start picking through the ashes to put their lives back together.

But private fire protection services require different protocols. Efficient safety delivery services are not free. In order to enjoy top-notch fire protection technologies, private fire department customers will need to pay first. When a house catches fire, the owner must come downstairs to negotiate a price with the firm's fire safety delivery sales representative. Private fire safety delivery personnel will not begin work until the affected homeowner signs a contract promising to pay the firm's rate, as well as to indemnify all firm employees against harm or injury. Firm employees will not begin fighting the fire until they verify the homeowner's credit and back account information. Homeowners with insufficient funds or credit will not be able to obtain professional fire protection services.

These protocols may surprise citizens accustomed to free public firefighting services. After all, it may seem callous that firefighting professionals would let children burn to death simply because their parents cannot pay the firefighting bill. But timely payment is essential to private enterprise. The entire system would collapse if private businesses do not receive timely compensation for their services. No business would have an incentive to deliver top-notch private fire safety services if it were not assured that customers would pay. As we saw, it is not cheap to run a fire department. Unless customers pay fair market rates for fire protection services, private enterprise would not effectively do its work. Thus, affected homeowners must pay in advance for fire protection services, even if that means their family burns in the meantime. Ensuring payment is the only way to assure vigorous, efficient free market competition.

In the end, firefighting is about safety. Safety is a market product like any other. Private enterprise always delivers products more efficiently than public bureaus. Just as private security firms sell security more efficiently than the police department, so too will private fire protection firms sell fire protection more efficiently than the fire department. Some may find it unfortunate that private services cost money. But money makes things get done so much better.

And the fact remains that better services go to those who can pay for them. Private firefighters do their jobs twice as hard as public firefighters because they actually stand to gain something beyond a bum city paycheck; if they work hard, they might even earn shares in the company. That means private firefighters deliver much more safety than comparable public firefighters. In sum, then, private fire departments will deliver greater safety than public ones.

Privatizing fire departments is an American solution to a genuine national problem. While some say that public service is its own reward, we must disagree. For every critic who claims that a public fireman comes home happy that he "helped people" on the job, we will show you a private fireman who comes home far happier that he just made $100,000 for rescuing children and an antique billiard table. When firemen work harder, everyone is safer. Public service does not induce firemen to work harder. After all, what incentive does a fireman have to put out more fires if he knows he'll get $41,000 pretax a year no matter how many fires he puts out? Why not entice firemen to work harder? To do that, we must make it worth their while. That means instilling the spirit of private enterprise in our firemen. And to do that, we need to make fire departments for-profit ventures.

America does not want governmental interference in private business arrangements. If a product can be sold, Americans want fair prices and innovation, not long waits and lackluster service. Fire safety is a product like any other. In that light, there is no reason why the private market cannot deliver it far more effectively than some ponderous government bureau.

Fire safety is about protecting people. It's time to let Americans choose how to protect themselves from fires. Public service is not the answer. Only motivated, private firefighters will deliver quality fire safety services at the price Americans deserve. It's time to make firefighters into something more than heroes. It's time to make them entrepreneurs with a stake in quality product delivery.

This is not just about saving people from fires. This is about the freedom to choose. Choose private enterprise. You and your children will sleep better in the knowledge that efficient, cost-effective fire protection services are just a phone call away.

Stop the inefficiency. Stop the stagnation. Privatize NOW.

3 comments:

askcherlock said...

I agree that privatizing has much merit and could bolster the down-slide economic impact small businesses have faced. It is time to let them have an entire pie, rather than he crumbs.

Ethan said...

Your article makes no mention that roughly 70% of the United States firefighting force is made up of volunteers. Obviously money is not all that makes people tick. Money does not always equal motivation or innovation.

Anonymous said...

Ever notice how alll fire departments are primarily white? Ocassional token non-white here or there, but it seems obvious they reserve these soft easy money spots for those who fit their ideal for their "fraternity".
And the pay/benefit package!!! This is an industry which needs privitization, let alone austerity.
If not for that family those three men would still be alive.
How many have to die? If another loses his life will this stop?