How to Start a Firefighting Business

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Three types of private firefighting businesses serve a diverse client base. Some companies employ resident firefighters on premises that include industrial sites, large companies and cruise ships. Private businesses also provide firefighting services for cities and other geographic areas. Other firefighting firms hold government contracts to provide services during emergencies, and to supplement local fire departments. Contract firefighters work for substantial periods of time in far-flung locations such as Guam, Antarctica and Iraq.

Establish your firefighting business. Select your business structure with a certified public accountant familiar with specialty service businesses. Meet with a commercial insurance agent with similar experience, as well as strong liability background. Obtain a business license at your city or county clerk’s office, and inquire about additional permits. Contact your state Department of Revenue to determine if your service business must pay sales taxes.

Determine your firefighting services and markets. Select a strategy that drives your business operations. For example, let’s say you want to provide skilled firefighting services to high-risk fire locations such as rugged mountain or canyon terrain. Your operation likely requires aerial equipment such as retardant-dropping and fire-spotting aircraft. Specially certified pilots operate those aircraft, and direct skilled wildfire crews on the ground. You will likely contract those specialty services to local cities and counties.

Purchase your vehicles and equipment. Select the equipment and personal safety gear your firefighters need. Buy items such as portable water tanks, chainsaws and hoses from a firefighting supply company. Examine used fire trucks, pumpers and tankers from a used fire vehicle dealer. You’ll also find aerial equipment such as ladder towers, command trucks and heavy rescue trucks.

Purchase and certify firefighting aircraft. Find quality used aircraft for an aerial firefighting fleet. Browse a directory of common firefighting aircraft including multiengine fixed-wing airplanes, varied helicopters and large jets converted to air tankers. Purchase firefighting aircraft from a commercial aircraft broker.

The Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, considers the aircraft “for hire,” and therefore subject to the Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 charter operations. FAA inspectors must certify the aircraft prior to use, and retain the right to re-inspect them at any time. Inspections include examination of maintenance records and equipment. The FAA has prepared a guide to completing the Part 135 Process. Locate an FAA regional office through the FAA directory.

Hire skilled firefighting personnel. Staff your firefighting operation with certified professionals who have specialized skills. Advertise job openings in a fire industry publication.

Firefighting pilots are also regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. The Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14 Subpart F states that a pilot must have the appropriate commercial pilot rating for aircraft under his command.

Market your firefighting services. Select from two marketing strategies. Market a specialty firefighting service to several geographic areas that can benefit from that service. Using the mountain and canyon community example, market your firefighting services to similar communities in that general region. Ensure that you can meet simultaneous demand if necessary.

Develop a second strategy based around a specialized service for individual customers. San Diego-based Pacific Fire Guard contracts with local homeowners to spray customers’ fire-threatened homes with an effective water and gel mixture. The company owner anticipates future contracts with homeowners’ associations, cellular phone companies with nearby towers and insurance companies.

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About the Author

Based in North Carolina, Felicia Greene has written professionally since 1986. Greene edited sailing-related newsletters and designed marketing programs for the New Bern, N.C. "Sun Journal" and New Bern Habitat ReStore. She earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Baltimore.

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