When I read this post over at Think Progress this morning, I was a little bothered by what it meant broadly. A Tennessee community offers, for a fee, access to its fire department for the rural communities within the county. A family that did not pay the fee experienced a fire, and once the firefighters arrived, refused to put out the fire. Theoretically, this quid pro quo works, as many folks (though not all) at the National Review pointed out. And a part of me gets that. I have subscriptions, and get access to things that non-subscribers do not. Fine. One problem I had with this is that the homeowner was willing to pay whatever he needed to get the firefighters, who were there watching the fire burn, to put out the fire, and he was still refused. The homeowner was "too late."
That, to me, is a real flaw in that program. Why not, in the case of an emergency, and with a person who is willing to pay, have something like an exorbitant emergency fee? Instead of making a non-paying person suffer, especially with equipment that could help there in plain view, the loss of property, charge them a massive fee to do that work. Of course, I am thinking of a person who can afford both a subscription and an emergency fee. I wonder if this community offers graduated rates based on income so that you don't have people suffer solely based on their lack of a sufficient income, but that is another discussion altogether.
What if there had been someone trapped in the home? That was the next thought that came to mind as the report noted that the firefighters stood and watched the fire (though they did work to put out the fire that spread into a neighbor's yard, a neighbor who had paid the subscription fee). Would they still have done nothing? I am still trying to figure out why the firefighters even came out. If they knew that the neighbor was a subscriber when the fire spread to that other home, how could they not know that the burning home's owner was not on the list? The fact that they came out, and simply watched the place burn seems particularly cruel (if you look at those comments from the NRO folks, they seem to mock the homeowner, which is utterly unnecessary). Interestingly, I don't blame the firefighters; they were following policy (though I would not want to be any of them right now).
Ultimately, I just don't think that services like police and fire protection should be provided only for those who can afford it. Those are things that should be provided through out tax dollars without question.
UPDATE (10/5/10): Here is a clip from last night's Countdown with Keith Olbermann. The interview with the homeowner answers some of my questions, and it sheds more light on the policy.