I found this comment on an old comment thread regarding firefighting aircraft. The discussion leading to this comment was concerning how firefighting aircraft (the tankers you see dropping water and retardent) are contracted. In essence the aircraft are contracted over a certain length of time to a single agency, and the agency pays for the aircraft (crew and all support) while on standby and an additional cost is paid (hourly rate) when the aircraft is in use on a fire.
The quote below was written by a retired wildland firefighter who is familiar with the aircraft contracts. The example the commenter gives seems to me an excellent discription of what a new Republican fire department would be like.
If exclusive use contracts did not have a daily availability rate to cover their fixed costs the hourly rate would be extremely high to make up for it. I would bet most companies would not bid on the contract if it did not have a daily availability rate as there is no guarantee of how many hours the aircraft will be in the air. If no one bid on exclusive use contracts and all aircraft were on call-when-needed contracts there would be chaos and response times could be significantly raised. I would bet the hourly rates would become very volatile and the cost of providing aircraft would rise and the service levels would drop. Daily availability rates provide stability.Bold emphasis is mine.
Lets imagine that a large city converted its entire fire department to private operation and made it all firefighting a call when needed situation, thus eliminating the need to pay a "daily availability rate" for fire department services. Initially there would be a huge tax savings. But think about the results. All the firefighters would be sent home to respond only when there is a fire call. In addition the apparatus might be hours away also, working a construction job wetting down dust or some other similar task. After all the equipment would not be owned by the city and would not be for "exclusive use." The firefighters might all be on other jobs that they can't leave, or live hours away from the station. The firefighters would then not be guaranteed a stable income so they would demand they be paid very high rates for responding. There would no doubt be a high turnover with the result of fewer fighters being available when needed, poor training, and procedures would not be followed. Would you want this situation when your house is on fire?
The answer is no, you would want to bear the expense of having the engine stay in the station, and pay the firefighters to stay with their apparatus. Why? Because the other alternative is to lose lots of property, which is far more costly than keeping the equipment and personnel in the station, in terms of actual replacement value and rapidly rising insurance rates, if you can get insurance at all, and the cost of a mortgage if you could not get insurance. The insurance industry has based their rates on such things as station location, equipment available, hydrant locations and numbers, and finally the amount of loss in jurisdictions. They have done this because the upfront investments make a difference in the loss the company will likely have to pay out in claims. Pay a little bit now, or much more later is the saying that sums this up. The property value lost on the Angora Fire is estimated at about 150 million dollars currently and will probably rise. The suppression costs are estimated at about 14 million dollars. Sometimes one aircraft can make a huge difference on initial attack and keep those costs down in the tens of thousands of dollars instead. When comparing costs the daily availability rate is a minor expense.
The majority of the country is covered by very dedicated volunteer fire departments whose members also work regular jobs aside from providing a vital service to the community. The do have to leave their paying jobs to fight fires and provide medical services for little or no pay, but the equipment is dedicated and not likely to be "watering construction sites". I have full respect for these firefighters (being a former volunteer myself). Yet they have to work with little or no budget and are often struggling to keep the equipment and their training up to date. I would hate to see this model applied to major cities or nationwide.