Climate change is forcing American insurance companies to enter the firefighting business. Chubb, in particular, operates its own fire brigade called Wildfire Defense Services.
The Wildfire Defense Services (WDS) fights wildfires in 18 American states, NBC reports. For instance, WDS saved the home of Chubb policyholder Fred Giuffrida on 8 October 2017. To explain, WDS’s services are available to Chubb policyholders with homes insured for more than $1 million (£780 million).
Chubb is one of several American insurers offering firefighting services. For example, the PURE (Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange) Group of Insurance Companies has offered firefighting services in California since 2014.
Additionally, AIG’s Private Clients Group has offered firefighting coverage since 2004. The Private Client Group covers homes owned by 42% of the people on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans, Stephen Poux revealed.
Not surprisingly, the cost of such coverage is not cheap. Private Clients Group premiums run from “several thousand dollars to several tens-of-thousands,” Poux said. Poux is the AIG Private Group’s Global Head of Risk Management and Loss Prevention.
Risks from private firefighters
Insurers are taking huge risks and inviting controversy by offering private firefighting services.
Insurers could face increased liability costs because of the risks private firefighters take. For example, lawyers can sue an insurer if a private firefighter dies or becomes injured defending a home.
NBC reports Chubb’s WDS firefighters did not report their location to authorities while fighting the fire at Giuffrida’s home. Thus fire could have WDS firefighters without backup.
Under personal injury law insurers could be liable for deaths and injuries to private fighters. Moreover, insurers could be liable if private firefighters hinder official firefighting efforts.
Insurance firefighter controversy
Controversy over private firefighting is erupting in California because of recent wildfires that killed 77 people. Officials expect the death toll to rise because they are still searching for bodies, the Associated Press reports.
Most of the victims were poor and elderly residents of working-class communities. Meanwhile, private firefighters saved the homes of wealthy Californians like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.
Motherboard reports private fighters kept flames away from the tabloid queen’s $60 million (£46.63 million) Los Angeles area home. In addition, West and Kardashian were not even there during the wildfire – authorities evacuated the celebrity.
Not surprisingly, headlines attacking private firefighting are filling American media. Hence, private firefighting is now an issue in America’s growing debate over income inequality.
A likely outcome will be legislation to ban or restrict private firefighting. The recent victories of left-wing Democrats in America’s midterm elections make such legislation inevitable.
Strangely, some insurers could welcome such legislation because of the rising costs and risks of private firefighting.
Climate change is increasing the number of wildfires and the potential damage they can cause. For example, 48,390 homes were at risk from fires in California on 13 November 2018. Hence, there could be too many homes for private fire brigades to protect.
Climate change increases fire the danger by changing weather patterns and creating droughts. For example, there are no rains to put out fires.
Significantly the lack of moisture kills vegetation while heat dries out trees and grass. That creates vast amounts of fuel for wildfires which can quickly grow into destructive infernos no firefighter can cope with.
Climate Change and Firefighting
Under those circumstances, it will be impossible for insurance company firefighters to save many clients’ properties.
The Camp Fire destroyed the entire town of Paradise, California, and 10,500 homes during the week of 12 November 2018. Notably, the Camp Fire was still burning out of control on 19 November 2018.
An obvious dilemma for insurers will be private firefighters refusing to risk their lives to save millionaires’ homes. Another risk will be authorities ordering private firefighters to protect the entire community.
Hence climate change could force insurers out of the firefighting business. Consequently, insurers will drop fire insurance or fire insurance for expensive homes. Insurers will drop fire insurance because they cannot afford the increased claims created by climate change.
Will Trump Take Action?
Thus insurance companies could join the groups lobbying President Donald J. Trump (R-New York) to take action on climate change.
Trump reportedly believes in climate change but refuses to take action or a firm stand on the issue. Trump is reluctant to tackle climate change because many of his financial supporters and voters deny global warming.
Hence Trump keeps making conflicting statements about climate change. In addition, Trump’s administration has dramatically scaled back the US government’s climate change fighting efforts.
Only time will tell if insurers have the money and influence to change Trump’s behaviour. Hence, all the candidates preparing to challenge Trump (or his successor) in the 2020 Presidential race could receive a lot of money from insurance companies.