KALAMAZOO —The idea of privatizing fire protection—a service many regard as a core government function—usually elicits skepticism, but it’s being taken seriously in Kalamazoo.

The city has been looking at ways to cut about $1 million from its public safety budget and, at a recent forum, contracting with a private company for fire service generated the most attention. Gary Hetrick, chief of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, was quoted as saying, "I believe that some newly incorporated cities as well as some others have in fact used private vendors and contracted out their fire services." If Kalamazoo chose this route, he said, public safety officers would probably still respond to fire calls but the private firm (or firms) would operate the rigs and fight the fires.

Private fire protection is indeed not as far-fetched as some think. Scottsdale, Arizona, for instance, has had a private, for-profit fire protection service since the city was first incorporated. The company, Rural/Metro, has received wide praise nationwide for its service and efficiency. And thousands of rural communities across America are served by volunteer fire departments, representing another kind of privatization.