CommunityMy FDLSeminal

You like your public firefighting plan, right?

Tina Dupuy makes a good point:

Let’s look at this reasonably: Firefighting used to be a private for-profit industry. In the 1800’s, the early days of urbanization, in cities like New York and Baltimore, there were private "clubs" or "gangs" who were in charge of putting out fires. The infamous Boss Tweed started his illustrious political career at a volunteer fire company. The way it functioned was the first club at the scene got money from the insurance company. So, they had an incentive to get there fast. They also had an incentive to sabotage competition. They also often ended up getting in fights over territory and many times buildings would burn down before the issue was resolved. They were glorified looters. It was corrupt, bloated and expensive – but at least it wasn’t the much maligned "government controlled."

Around the time of the Civil War, firefighting in big cities was reformed and taken over by the government. Currently firefighters in most major metropolises are trained by the government, employed by the government and given health care – wait for it – by the government.

Yet if we had to have the "conversation" about the firefighting industry today, we’d have socialism-phobic South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint on the TV every chance he could get saying things like, "Do you want a government bureaucrat between you and the safety of your home?"

Rep. John Boehner of Ohio would hold press conferences and ask, "Do you want your firefighting to be like going to the DMV? Do you want Uncle Sam to come breaking down your door every time some Washington fat cat says there’s a fire?"

There would be 30-second TV spots paid for by the powerful firefighting lobby featuring stars and stripes graphics and the national anthem playing softly in the background with a booming voice-over trumpeting, "Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were volunteer firefighters. Support traditional values and oppose government waste. Tell your representative you want a bi-partisan solution to fire reform."

News programs would be interviewing sobbing people whose homes fell through the cracks and burned to the ground. "I don’t want to see the government take-over firefighting, but I sure miss Momma’s oil paintings."

And President Barack Obama would relay his childhood experience with a fire then point out the failure of the for-profit firefighting industrial complex that "threatens to bankrupt this country." And then those most in need of firefighting services would foam about his birth certificate and confuse Karl Marx with Charles Darwin on misspelled protest signs at events put on covert firefighting lobbyists.

But instead, today firefighters are national heroes. They’re organized, quick, competent and with few exceptions pillars of the community. Their duty is to protect people and their property and they do it. They make no profits, are part of the government and they help people 24-hours a day. They even let seniors live. No debate necessary. What started out as a shady gaming of the system where the general public’s welfare was at risk is today something of national pride.

The private health insurance industry today is much like the private firefighting industry of the 1800s. Their incentives don’t align with the purpose they ostensibly exist to serve. Private firefighters fought with each other instead of putting out fires. Private insurance companies throw bureaucrats at you to deny you care and to save their shareholders money instead of keeping you healthy.

Now, why again does the private industry not deserve a little competition from an entity that has only one goal in mind – your health?

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Jason Rosenbaum

Jason Rosenbaum

Writer, musician, activist. Currently consulting for Bill Halter for U.S. Senate and a fellow at the New Organizing Institute.

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