Private Firemen? Inmate Firemen


Jenna Ye

Students Linda Chen ’21 and Tommy Ho ’21 exchange their opinions on the topic of privatizing social services, such as fire fighting services.

Since its inception, the United States of America has been viewed as a beacon of justice for the rest of the world. It has always been proudly referred to as the “land of the free.” We can date such thoughts back to various famous historical instances, from John Winthrop’s famous “City Upon a Hill” sermon to the imagined ideal of American exceptionalism, an image still widely upheld throughout the world today.

However, do we deserve such a name given our current state?

Some might argue that America’s gilded image never existed to begin with, but it falls even further in recent times as dreary news headlines seems more frequent than ever before.

In recent news, another depressing light has been shed upon the inequalities that this country is facing. The chaotic California wildfires that ravaged over a million acres resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage, hundreds of people missing, and several shocking revelations, most prominently the existence of firefighting inmates and private firefighters.

“The idea of private firefighters is ridiculous,” said Anindya Debnath ’21.

The private firefighting sector has risen over the years as insurance companies such as Pure and Chubbs offer a variety of services to their clientele, wrapping the entirety of a tragic incident such as a wildfire in a nice little bow. Clients can receive advanced notice as well as status updates on fires near their homes while resting in hotels, where the price of their stay is also covered for (depending on the type of services that the clients purchased.) Typically, the services of actual firefighters consists of prior preventative measures, inspections, and damage control of the aftermath, as well as actual firefighting, which comes at a premium. Rich households such as the Kardashians have been able to hire private forces that specifically protect their mansions from the disastrous California blazes. However, in light of the wreckage that is left behind, ranging from burnt down homes to missing loved ones, many question the morality of such a service. Anindya Debnath ’21 said, “I can’t believe this exists. The idea of private firefighters is ridiculous.”

“Private firefighting sounds pretty smart. Wouldn’t this make it more efficient for firefighters overall?” said Tommy Ho ’21. Tasfia Tasnim ’19 considers the other end of the spectrum in her response. “Personally I don’t think theres anything wrong with the idea of private firefighting. If a person wants to and is able to pay for such services they should be allowed to do so, since we live in a capitalistic society. But, there should be some regulation regarding this. Is some cases, private firefighters, in order to complete their jobs, would knowingly re-enter evacuation zones against orders. They can be a distraction to public firefighters, which can hinder their jobs, as a firefighter’s first priority is to save lives.”

Historically speaking, firefighting has belonged under the umbrella of “private” companies. Firemen, or “watermen” as they were called, worked in brigades under different insurance companies that protected certain buildings that they received fees from. Of course, everyone in the community would pitch in during huge fire outbreaks, and eventually, firefighting morphed into the public service that it is today.

The image of the public service of firefighting is yet again muddled with the emergence of even more shocking news: inmate firefighters.

It has become public knowledge that California is using many of its prisoners to fight the disastrous wildfires that have reached a record peak this year. Inmate firefighters receive a set payment of $2 a day, with an additional hourly wage of on average $2. In addition, those who wish to pursue a career in firefighting are not allowed to do so after serving out their sentences either. This should be frowned upon, as there are various laws that the federal agency for Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces against discrimination.

Wouldn’t discrimination of employment on the basis of criminal record be looked down upon as well? Firefighting is a much appreciated service that contributes significantly to the wellbeing of the community. Besides, with the decline that we see occurring over the recent years in volunteer firemen, it’s great for people to want to pursue a career in such a field. Linda Chen ’21 said, “This can serve as them giving back to the community to atone for their sins, but I disagree with the restriction. They should be allowed to receive the opportunity to be a firefighter after leaving if they want to.”