A private insurer, the New Jersey-based Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, sent an announcement on May 8, shortly after noon, that it had dispatched an unspecified number of wildfire engines and crews to the Jesusita Fire. Its press release said that in conjunction with Wildfire Defense Services, Inc., the insurer had already “sprayed a number of homes with fire-blocking gel and have taken other protective measures,” and that the company was “in continuous contact with Incident Command and are fully coordinating our efforts with them.”
Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesperson David Sadecki said that Chubb “is not coordinating with us to our knowledge. We wouldn’t have them on our plan.” He said that it’s possible that a private company would be allowed past some roadblocks, though certainly not to battle blazes. “We are all professional firefighters,” Sadecki added, “which enables us to avoid making mistakes, but even so, a few of our guys have been overcome.”
No one who could be reached in CalFire Incident Command could confirm, deny, or clarify Chubb’s activities. “That’s a new one on me,” said Emergency Operation Center spokesperson Joan Wynn. “An insurance company with fire engines?” She said she had not seen them on deployment plan documents, but would double-check. Wynn added that they would not be permitted past road blocks without prior approval.
Santa Barbara City Fire spokesperson John Ahlman said he had seen some private trucks during the Jesusita Fire, though he didn’t know what their role was. A number of private companies such as Wildfire Defense Services exist, he said, and their trucks are a not uncommon sight at fires. With these trucks virtually indistinguishable from government fire trucks, though usually smaller, he said, it’s unlikely that law enforcement officers would challenge them at roadblocks.
A City of Santa Barbara Police Department spokesperson said he was not aware of any policy with regard to Wildfire Defense Services. He referred questions to CalFire. Sheriff’s spokespersons could not be immediately reached for comment.