For this alternate universe, we have an eccentric billionaire in a modern day setting.

He's a resident of a fairly large city - several million in the metro area - and he is very fond of it. However, the city's administration is known for being inefficient/corrupt, and no other apartment is more plagued by this than FictionalTown's fire department.

The fire department has a lot of free riders in its employ, and those that are actually trying are woefully stretched thin and low on manpower and resources. Emergency calls are responded to at what can only be described as a stately pace, with many more simply going unanswered.

The billionaire simply tolerated this state of affairs for some time, lobbying for change, until FictionalTown had itself an enormous fire that wiped out a considerable percentage of the town before it was extinguished. It was at this point he became so furious that he decided to take matters into his own hands.

He quietly acquired the engines, facilities, equipment, and professionals, necessary to start his own private department.

Then when the time came, he unleashed them on the city, tapping into the city's calls to know what emergencies were not being responded to, as well as having their own private emergency number. Normally his contribution wouldn't have been as noticeable, but due to the fact that many emergencies were literally left unmitigated by the local department, that every call they responded to either had a positive change or turned out the same.

What would be the ramifications of him starting this department? Whose toes would be stepped on, and would he be allowed to continue operating?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You say that he is "tapping into the city's calls to know what emergencies were not being responded to". Are you referring to illicit wiretapping of the emergency services' phone lines? $\endgroup$
    – user
    Feb 5, 2017 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking more along the lines of tip offs in the city department, as well as intercepting open channel radio stuff, wire tapping not so much. $\endgroup$
    – Razmode
    Feb 5, 2017 at 23:31
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    $\begingroup$ Can you say what legal framework FictionalTown exists in? Is this USA? Russia? China? The Bahamas? There are countries I know of where this (not fire but other services) has happened and countries where it has been prevented. Describing ramifications will depend on environment. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Feb 5, 2017 at 23:37
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    $\begingroup$ Do people send a searchlight beam into the night sky to call this fire department? Does Alfred the butler answer the phone when someone calls "922" ;-) $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Feb 6, 2017 at 1:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ One for the been there, done that department. Marcus Licinius Crassus, Rome, around 300 BCE. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Feb 6, 2017 at 1:17

3 Answers 3



He would most likely spend a lot of money on this, and would also have to pay for PR to get people to know about his private fire department.

The actual fire department would be made obsolete, and would become a total waste of money for taxpayers.

People would become dependent on his services, as his dept. is more reliable than the official one, and if he ran out of money he would leave the city fully without fire protection.

Toes Stepped On

  1. Mayor - the mayor is not amused, as he is being made irrelevant by this rich guy
  2. Fire Department Head - he is also being made useless, and if he quits and joins the new department, he will be subordinate to his former subordinates.
  3. Taxpayers - the new fire department will make the old one just a waste of money
  4. The Slacking Firefighters - those who formerly worked for the government and did nothing would be upset, as if they quit and join the new department they will have to actually work, be subordinate to former subordinates, and can be fired due to the faster operation of the private method.
  5. Firefighter Unions - because this is not the government, lobbying is harder. The owner can easily fire all of the current ones and hire new firefighters if the unions become too bossy
  6. Cybersecurity Advocates - Hacking into a government system is both a demonstration of the lack of security and breaking of the law
  7. Police - it is going to be harder to coordinate with firefighters because the two department heads no longer are both subordinate to the same guy
  8. Environment Advocates - Because there are so many new fire departments and firefighters, more water and materials must be used to supply and equip them
  9. People whose houses burned down - "Why isn't the money being used to rebuild my house?" I am still alive and need a home
  10. Tax Collectors - how do you collect taxes from a private corporation that works as a public service?
  11. Bureaucrats - they can't skim money off of the top of a private corporation
  12. General public - it is hard to dial a private phone number in an emergency, as it will most likely have not three but ten digits, possibly more
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Good answer, although I have some objections. 3) taxpayers won't really object to have working firefighters. Either the old one gets cancelled or it will work with less funding, leaving the remaining cash to be used elsewhere. 5) union reaction depends on the country. In Scandinavia, that wouldn't work.8) If the old one barely does anything, then it won't consume resources either so no actual increase (it will just consume what it ought to). 10) they are likely not making a profit and thus have no obligation to pay taxes. If the billionaire makes a profit from PR, then that's where taxes are. $\endgroup$
    – Mrkvička
    Feb 5, 2017 at 21:20

Firefighting used to be private. My recollection is that Gangs of New York had two private firefighting companies sitting outside a burning building.


I can imagine the private firefighters would be very welcome by insurers of the burnt and also adjacent properties. They might pay the private outfit a fraction of what they would have had to pay if the fire had gone unchecked.

Real billionaires, though, effect change by sponsoring a leader who fronts their views and then arrange for that candidate to win the election or otherwise take power. Especially if the billionaire's wealth is threatened. You can do a lot with a billion dollars.


There are three questions in this question so here is the break down:

What would be the ramifications of him starting this department?

According to a random fire department site I found that Annapolis, MD for FY2011 had a budget of $14 million (15 million in 2016 dollars). So the billionaire will be sinking a lot of money into this, but he should be able to handle the cost.

The city will be in a better state over all with the reduced chance of damage caused by fire. As a result residents and business likely will be happier that there is a group properly protecting their property and they are not having to pay for it. They are already upset with the official fire department not working and wasting tax payer money, so I doubt they would be more upset about them.

Whose toes would be stepped on?

If the mayor has any kind of narcissistic personality or large ego he (or she) will be rather offended by this group and would want it dismantled. They would use any powers they have as mayor to try and make the private fire department illegal despite out cries from the public.

Any one who was getting kick backs from the public fire department's budget likely will be indifferent as long as the tax payers do not get the public fire department defunded. Any attempt to defund the public fire department will likely cause these people to start launching a PR operation slandering the private fire department.

The public fire department fire fighters will continue to sit back and do nothing. If they don't care if part of the city burns down, why would they care if someone else puts it out? However, if the public starts to push for the dismantling of the public fire department, do not be surprised if the public firefighters start to protest. They likely will harass, terrorize and intimidate the private fire fighters and attempt to destroy their equipment if they feel their pay check gets threaten (think of it much like how a gang handles a person testifying against them).

Would he be allowed to continue operating? The good Samaritan law would help protect the billionaire and his fire department as long as he does not charge for his services. With that said if the law enforcement is corrupt then the law does not matter.

If they are corrupt and being controlled by someone else then they will be used as pawns to try and take down the private fire department. They will do this by generating fake evidence showing how irresponsible the private fire department is, that they start the fires they are putting out, they charge people money for their service, and level false charges against the fire fighters.


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