Private emergency service

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This page lists some examples of privately run emergency services.

Emergency service apps

There is a growing number of smart phone apps that let you instantly alert a chosen network of people (friends, family, or others nearby who use the app) that there’s an emergency, like an accident, altercation, or health crisis. Examples include Cell411, Guardian Circle and Guardly.


In Austria are the firefighters predominantly volunteers (about 99%). There are also fire services in some large companies. Only in six large cities are professional fire departments, in Vienna, Graz, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Linz. As of 2011, there were 4.854 departments, out of those 4.523 were voluntary, 325 worked for companies and 6 were professional ("career") fire departments.[1]


Australia’s capacity to respond to natural disasters has been based largely on a range of specialised volunteer-based organisations, each of which relies on a small cadre of paid (or career) staff and a much larger workforce of (unpaid) volunteers who are mobilised and deployed on the basis of need in response to a particular disaster or emergency incident. Volunteer disaster relief and recovery organisations in particular have responded to overseas earthquake and tsunami disasters, and have had to prepare for possible pandemics.

Emergency services volunteers provide 24-hour, 365 days per year emergency protection to the majority of the population over most of Australia.

There are volunteer fire, rescue (including SES, coastguard, and marine), and ambulance services. Organizations such as Anglicare, Salvation Army and others also have a long tradition of being heavily involved in emergency and disaster relief and recovery work.[2]


As of 2008, there were about 127,000 volunteer firefighters in Canada.[3]


Chile has a 100 percent volunteer firefighter force, the Bomberos. As of 2010 there were 38,000 volunteers. Polls have Bomberos first on the list of institutions most trusted by Chileans, much ahead of the police and the Catholic Church.[4]


Germany has predominantly volunteer fire departments - about 24.000. There are about 900 fire services mandated or recognized by law in certain large industrial companies and airports. There are also about 300 fire departments in companies that are not required by law to have them. There's approximately 100 public fire departments, and about 5 mandatory ones (created when no voluntary fire service came into being, a municipality can order some people to perform this service).

There is about 1.1 million active duty personnel, in addition 250.000 people organized in the youth fire services. 96% are volunteers.[5]

United Kingdom

Royal National Lifeboat Institution

In 1789, a ship foundered in a storm in the mouth of the river Tyne. Spectators on shore watched in horror as crewmen fell into the sea and drowned; no one was able to rescue them. Moved by the tragedy, local philanthropists offered a two-guinea prize for a lifeboat designed to withstand heavy seas. Several inventors came forth with ideas, and the result was a long rowboat pointed at both ends and buoyed by 700 pounds of cork. One by one, local life-boat stations were established along the coast.

In 1823, Sir William Hillary, himself a lifeboatman on the Isle of Man with 305 rescues to his credit, wrote an "Appeal to the Nation" calling for the establishment of a national lifeboat organization supported by voluntary subscriptions. London merchants took up the idea and organized the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in 1824. The RNLI eventually set up stations all around the British Isles, including Ireland and Northern Ireland.[6]

In 2011, their volunteer lifeboat crews launched 8,905 times and rescued 7,976 people around the coasts of the UK and RoI. The lifeguards, patrolling 163 beaches in the UK and Channel Islands, attended 15,625 incidents and carried out over 2 million preventative actions. The RNLI was called upon to rescue an average of 32 people every day. 139,832 lives have been saved since 1824. The Institution had 342 lifeboats assigned to 235 lifeboat stations in the British Isles.[7]

But running the lifeboats and paying the thousands of rescue workers does not cost British taxpayers a penny. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is a private organization, supported, as it proudly says on its letterhead, "entirely by voluntary contributions" and managed by its own trustees and staff.

Since the 1890s, left-wing activists have pushed to have the RNLI nationalized on the ground that the state ought to run all public services. These campaigns always founder since the RNLI beats government emergency services hands down. Its naval architects and managers have designed and built a fleet of rescue boats that are the most advanced in the world (when they are retired at their British stations, the secondhand boats are purchased by coast- guard agencies of other countries, including Australia, New Zealand, and Uruguay). The RNLI's voluntary income (£172 million in 2011[7]) easily covers its costs (estimated £150 million), and its reserve fund of £579 million could keep the service going for more than three years. Compare this financial picture to the fiscally strapped government, which frequently curtails state services such as hospitals and libraries for lack of funds.

Then there is the advantage of volunteers, who cost less than full-time government staff and are more dedicated to serving the public. In most of Britain's government-run emergency services, employees have formed unions that go on strike, interrupting the vital services of ambulances, fire brigades, and hospitals. A strike at the RNLI is hard to imagine. Unlike a government agency, a voluntary group like the RNLI cannot force people to pay for its services. It appeals to the public's generosity, and it can do so only by behaving in a generous way itself. A strike by the RNLI would destroy the public good will on which it depends. The crew members are paid only a small ($11) stipend on the days they go out. Their example inspires the paid mechanics and other staff members, who would never think of letting the public down by a deliberate act of disruption. [6]

United States

In 2011, 69% of the 1,100,450 firefighters in US were volunteers, most (94%) in departments that protect fewer than 25,000 and more than half located in small, rural departments that protect fewer than 2,500 people.[8]

There are hundreds of small private fire companies along with seven industry leaders in 14 states, according to Private Sector Fire Association statistics.

Scottsdale, Arizona uses the Rural/Metro Corporation and Scottsdale voters prefer Rural/Metro to the option of a municipally owned fire department. Mayor Herbert R. Drinkwater says that because of Rural/Metro, Scottsdale citizens benefit from a superior level of fire service at a considerably lower cost than if the city had a municipal fire department.

An increasing number of established departments are emulating Rural/Metro’s subscription services in remote areas. Rural/Metro created the concept of providing fire protection to areas that might otherwise have difficulty obtaining any fire or emergency medical service at all—communities without the tax base to subsidize fire departments. It currently services communities in Arizona, Tennessee, and Oregon on a subscription basis.

The subscription process is voluntary. The company contracts with home and property owners in subscription areas, who pay annual fees for fire protection and emergency medical service, level of service is based on population density and geography. The company is the first-responder agency in these locales. A non-subscriber must pay a fairly high hourly rate per fire-fighting unit if it is necessary for Rural/Metro to respond to a fire at that person’s residence or property.

The company focuses on prevention, but it also tailors of services to each area’s needs. For instance, poisonous desert reptiles are removed from members’ homes or properties, at no extra charge. If water pipes burst, Rural/Metro subscription customers know the company will shut off utilities and remove excess water from their homes as a matter of routine, at no additional cost.[9]


  1. "Die Feuerwehr Österreichs - Leistungsbilanz 2011" (pdf in German: "Fire protection services of Austria - Performance Evaluation 2011"), Österreichischer Bundes Feuerwehr Verband. Referenced 2013-02-23.
  2. Jim McLennan. "Issues Facing Australian Volunteer-Based" (pdf), "A Report Prepared For Emergency Management Australia (EMA) as a Response to a Request by the Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management", Complex Decision Research Group (CDRG), La Trobe University, June 2008. Referenced 2013-02-23.
  3. Brad Patton. "Volunteer Vision: Obstacles in maintaining a volunteer department", Firefighting in Canada, referenced 2013-02-23.
  4. Pascale Bonnefoy. "Chile: fighting fires for free", GlobalPost, September 30, 2010. Referenced 2013-02-23.
  5. "Feuerwehr" (in German "Fire protection services"), Bundesministerium des Innern (Ministry of the Interior). Referenced 2013-02-23.
  6. 6.0 6.1 James L. Payne. "Life Savings", Reason, the August/September 1994 issue, referenced 2012-12-11.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Review of the year", Royal National Lifeboat Institution, referenced 2012-12-11.
  8. "The U.S. Fire Service", National Fire Protection Association. Referenced 2013-02-23.
  9. Nancy W. Poole. "Fire-Fighting for Profit, The Freeman, August 01, 1991, referenced 2013-02-15.