Monday, October 4, 2010

Let it Burn, Let it Burn, Let it Burn?

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.


The $3000 Dress said...

i know there are many many many ways to look at this and analyze and debate and mock and point fingers. all i gotta say is this is the just a taste of what a free-market government will look like. you want less gov't? you'll have to pay ANYWAY. it won't be called taxes, it will be called "toll" or "fee" or "admission" or "right" or "privilege" wow - this is a real doozie - nice balanced post.

TC said...

1) (Just an interesting and tangentially related tidbit.) I'm sure you know that the first fire departments were established by insurance companies and only responded to fires at their insurees. Not relevant to this but interesting.

2) I too believe that emergency government services should be available to all and not just those who can afford it. But this FD belonged to the city and he lived in the county, so this guy did not live in the FD's jurisdiction. In this case, city taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for services that non-residents can get for free. Sad as it is, this guy rolled the dice and chose not to spend $75/yr to insure his home from destruction.

TC said...

Free rider extraordinaire:

"I thought they'd come out and put it out, even if you hadn't paid your $75, but I was wrong," said Gene Cranick.

hscfree said...

@TC: regarding your first point, i wonder if the first volunteer fire departments started because of that.

i think that because Cranick had paid the fee in the past, he made that unfortunate assumption, especially since he was willing to pay whatever it took to save his home. because this seems to be a relatively known policy between that town and that county, though i am disturbed by whatever that county is doing to lack the funds for emergency fire service, i get their arrangement. and i think that is reflected in my post. however, because a fire is normally an emergency, i think that that town should modify that policy to include an emergency fee that is costly (but available).

i mean that family lost its pets in that fire. what if that were a person trapped? it's a legitimate question that everyone in that town and county should ask themselves. keep the subscription service, but give people options. once he said he was willing to pay whatever, there should be a "whatever" fee that will provide that service, and bill accordingly.