Another Example of Fee-for-Service Fire Department Letting a Home Burn (and its Implications)
A story from Tennessee raises further questions about the role of government.
Apropos, thematically anyway, to my post from yesterday on the question of individual choice, public policy, and suffering as seen through the eyes of Rick Santorum we have a vivid example of the intersection of private choices and the question of social responsibility. Via the Sideshow: Tennessee family home burns while firefighters watch
A Tennessee couple helplessly watched their home burn to the ground, along with all of their possessions, because they did not pay a $75 annual fee to the local fire department.
South Fulton Mayor David Crocker defended the fire department, saying that if firefighters responded to non-subscribers, no one would have an incentive to pay the fee. Residents in the city of South Fulton receive the service automatically, but it is not extended to those living in the greater county-wide area.
“There’s no way to go to every fire and keep up the manpower, the equipment, and just the funding for the fire department,” Crocker said.
For his part, Mayor Crocker stressed that the city’s firefighters will help people in danger, even those who haven’t paid the fee. “After the last situation, I would hope that everybody would be well aware of the rural fire fees, this time,” Crocker said.
Gee, I should hope that everyone knows, too. (This is, by the way, the second such story of this nature coming out of Tennessee of late).
This situation, of course, hits specifically at the issue of the potential results that can occur when we decide that certain policies will not be universal/fully funded.
Look, the family in question should have paid the $75, if that was what was required. However, that fact does not take away from the tragic fact of a fire department standing by and letting the house burn over said sum.
This event raises a general question of the role of government in terms of funding and providing social services and does serve as a fairly stark illustration of a specific view of government: one that sees a value in very low taxes and services and that is willing to allow human suffering for those who either do not pay certain fees or, in fact, cannot.
The event also raises an interesting parallel with the individual mandate under the PPACA, as it illustrates that without penalties associated with lack of insurance, some people will gamble that they don’t need help until it is too late. This is why it is necessary to require purchase of insurance under the policy.
In general when looking at government services, there are basically the following general policy choices (apart from the option of not offering a given service in the first place):
1. Universal coverage paid for by general tax revenues. This is what we do for public schools and police protection (and most of us for things like fire protection and paramedic services).
2. Universal coverage paid for by individual contributions (covering part or all of the cost). Such contributions have to be mandatory with penalties to coerce compliance if they are to be universal. This is the idea behind the PPACA’s individual mandate (as well as behind payroll taxes used to fund Social Security).
3. Coverage based on fee-for-services (covering part or all of the cost) with denial of services if the fee isn’t paid. This is what we have with these subscription fire services.
The problem, of course, with option #3 is the lack of universality and the commensurate problems associated with lack of access to the service at a time of real need. Such a model is fine for, say, cable television. No one’s life is irrevocably altered if they can’t see Monday Night Football. However, if one can’t get the fire put out in their home (or can’t get health care, don’t have adequate income in retirement to pay the rent, etc.), that’s another issue. There is a reason why we tend to see some services as needing universal application.
Further, while understanding the need to fund the fire department, the story above does beg the question as to whether the lack of $75 indeed should have led to allowing a house to burn down without intervention (a just deserts question, although I understand the moral hazard/free rider problem as well). It further raises the question as to whether or not it would have been better to simply engage in very modest taxation of residents to help fun fire protection (if, in fact, all that was needed was $75 per household). Really, that last question strikes me as key.
The question is ultimately whether it is better to simply socialize the cost of specific vital services (again, as we already do with a host of things including national defense, roads, public education, police, and any number of other things) or whether we want to have policies like the above and to let the chips fall (or the burnt remains of houses) where they may.
Of course, the truth is that this choice is not a stark dichotomous one as we have already decided as a society to socialize cost and benefits across a lot of policies (and it hasn’t turned us into communists, by the way). The real issue at the moment is whether we are willing to have adequate taxation and/or enforcement mechanisms in place to make sure people pay for these needed services. A corollary to that issue is whether what we are really saying to ourselves is that only people who can afford to pay deserve to receive the services.
At a minimum, we need to understand and be honest about the implications of various policy choices.
A pet peeve of mine: the phrase “beg the question” is not the same thing as the phrase “raise the question”. They shouldn’t be used interchangeably.
The situation you describe raises questions about the role of government. It doesn’t beg them.
@Peacewood: Pet peeve noted.
This town needs to consider putting out fires 100% of the time and assessing fines for those not paying the fee. This is ridiculous.
It’s also worth noting that, thanks to economies of scale, it’s often cheaper, on a per household basis, to provide universal service paid for by general taxes, so as long as the newly covered households pay their share, those who were already covered may well see their costs go down. I suspect fire service is an example of this, given the high capital costs of the equipment. In such instances, fee-for-service advocates are actually expressing a preference to pay more for their own protection solely to ensure that imprudent people are punished for their poor judgment.
There is a reason why we tend to see some services as needing universal application.
Yeah, it’s soshulist indoctrination!!!11!!
People who are sick with no insurance, old with no money, or on fire should pick themselves up by their bootstraps and just die already. And Rick Santorum told me the only Christian thing to do is to let them.
@Herb: I disagree – I have no sympathy for the people who think they will never need the service so they don’t pay the fee which at $75 a year is a bargain. I pay a hell of a lot more than that for my county wide fire protection.
I suppose they also failed to pay for insurance for their home and possessions and are now complaining that an insurance company won’t compensate for them.
Actually the post says they do this fully for the residents of the City. Its those outside the city that don’t pay for the service that have the problem.
This is exactly the problem with – and the unavoidable consequence of – the GOP’s insistence on “running government like a business”. Governments are not not in existence to make a profit, or break even for that matter – they are there to provide for the citizenry. To provide services, protection, infrastructure, etc. This is not “soshalisum”, it’s basic civics, and it’s something this township & its mayor have utterly failed at.
A company can (and does, and generally should) tell other companies “screw you, I got mine”; when a government does that, it becomes a threat to every single citizen. Why? Because a government that does things like this will unhesitatingly sacrifice those citizens for the sake of numbers on a page.
One point worth raising: The mobile home (if I’m reading this correctly) sits outside of the town’s limits. Presumably, individuals within South Fulton receive fire protection as part of the local taxes they pay. The problem with taxing those in the county is that the town of South Fulton presumably does not have the power to tax those who live outside of town limits. Hence, the fee becomes a necessity.
It seems to me that if county residents want to ameliorate this situation, they should persuade the county government to enter into a comprehensive firefighting contract with the town of South Fulton … and those county residents, in turn, would see their taxes increased to fund the county’s extra expenditure.
@Ron Beasley: “I disagree – I have no sympathy for the people who think they will never need the service so they don’t pay the fee which at $75 a year is a bargain.”
But that’s why people shouldn’t be put in the position of not paying. Ethically, letting the house burn when people don’t pay is entirely defensible. Morally, having society (as represented by the fire department) stand there and do nothing while people lose their home for want of $75 is indefensible. I care less about the fools who didn’t pay than about the cruel indifference this policy validates and encourages in everyone else.
Examples like this illustrate why people like me see libertarianism as being a moral failure on a level approaching sociopathy.
For libertarians,the pain and suffering of other people is trivial and incinsequential, while their pain at having to pay taxes is the highest order of magniitude, and trumps all else.
They would, quite literally, stand and watch impassively as peoples homes are burned to the ground, sick people die in the street, and children go hungry, simply to avoid the injustice of paying taxes.
Excuse my ignorance for a moment, but fire protection is part of my property taxes (as opposed to state taxes or other), is that correct? (Note: I live in a sane part of the country.)
Given the insane situation in Tennessee, you can’t fault the fire department.
And while we’re airing our peeves, the phrase is “just deserts.” A foolish or wrongful act does not merit chocolate truffle cake, it warrants comeuppance, which seldom features whipped cream and a drizzle of raspberry coulis.
@legion: Which government are you talking about? By the post the city offers the service to its citizens for free, presumably through taxation. In addition they optionally offer the service to outlying area on a per fee basis. The City government has no direct responsibility outside of their jurisdiction. That leaves a county or other township or state that could bear the responsibility.
So the service is not extended “county wide”…
I wonder if there are local governments involved that could assess a $75 fee to their population and subsequently pay South Fulton for their fire services? If so, then the problem could easily be reframed in terms of “centralized vs distributed” government, as opposed to “centralized government vs gov’t as a business.”
Assuming there are local governments in place, this could just as easily be a failure of leadeship at a local level.
@Julie: Thanks for noting the error.
@rodney dill: True, but then why send the fire department out in the first place? The Mayor’s main argument for this policy is the lack of FD manpower to send all over the region, but sending them to every fire anyway just in case it spreads to a house that did pay doesn’t actually save them anything…
One thing that should be pointed out here is that people are ignoring the fact there is two governments involved here, the city government and the county government. The voters in the city have voted for universal coverage paid for with taxes. The county government hasn’t.
The city has been nice enough to extend their coverage to the rest of the county on a fee basis. The news coverage confuses this situation, resulting in people demanding that the city cover every house in the county, free-riders be damned. That’s a great sentiment, but sentiment won’t magically give the city the legal power to levy taxes on the rest of the county.
The end result of this is that city fire departments are likely just going to drop all service outside city rather than having to deal with the bad press of being held responsible for spotty coverage they have no control over.
An odd defense of the FD. If they do this for the city, why wouldn’t they extend “slack capacity” to anyone they can help?
Don’t FDs commonly go the assistance of neighboring towns when they have no fires of their own?
Maybe the model here is “we take care of our own, everyone else we charge.”
We’d need to know the city/county history, and whether the county was ever asked to pay a blanket addition.
Or was (as I say above) service only “marketed” to individuals?
It’s just like dealing with kids, if you aren’t willing to accept their choice in a certain issue you don;t give them the choice in the first place. If they have to go do homework don’t ask them if they want to just tell them to go do it.
And yes all to often government has to act like parents to people who refuse to eat their vegetables.
@MBunge: I’m inclined to agree that people should not be put in a position where they cannot pay. Where I live we moved to a county wide service about 30 years ago. Everyone in the county pays via property taxes. As I recall it was approved by the city people and the rural people who would benefit voted against it.@Steven L. Taylor: When we went to the county wide system it required building new stations, buying new equipment and hiring additional fire fighters so there was no reduction in my bill.
@Herb: That doesn’t solve the free-rider problem. If you were given the choice of paying $75 now or, say, $5000 if your house catches fire, you’ll probably opt for the latter, given that there is no consequence if your house *doesn’t* catch fire — and most people’s houses don’t over their lifetime (contrast that with serious medical expenses). So the question is, at what point does it become worth it for you to pay $75/year instead of a lump-sum? The number is probably unreasonably high for most people, which defeats the purpose and makes the fire department’s very existence dependent on people being unsafe. (I.e. they have no motivation to discourage fires, since that becomes their lifeblood.) Then there are the legal battles that ensue, including — off the top of my head:
– consent (would you have to consent to the fee before the fire is put out? do we want people negotiating on the street outside a burning building? or do we want to swipe a credit card before the firefighters start in?)
– arbitration for failure to pay or bankruptcy (if the cost is really high, the homeowner likely won’t have the resources to pay for the fire service anyway)
– failure of the fire department to save the structure or slow the fire (if the structure is destroyed, you then compound the problem of the lost structure with a big fine to the county for trying to put it out)
– when the fine is applied (at what point does the fire department actually get a check? when they show up? when they plug their hoses in? when they turn on the water? what if they turn on the water to put out the last smouldering bits? is that enough?)
– injury hazard to the workers (why are your firefighters running into a burning building to save material goods when the people haven’t even paid yet?)
While it would be nice if it were optional, you’re either stuck with an all-in system where everyone has to pay up-front or you get this mixed-bag result where some people suffer serious consequences for saving a few dimes. Seems pretty screwed up to opt for the latter, especially since many of the services we pay for through taxes are ones that we wouldn’t think of needing or wouldn’t consider paying for on our own but add a negligible amount to our taxes while significantly improving quality of life.
@rodney dill: The insurance issue is interesting. The rating on the policy should strongly relate to the rating of the fire district in which the house is located. So, the premiums should have been much higher, probably more than $75 annual fee. I live in a city that prides itself on a high rating, so my taxes go to make sure there is a staffed fire department within close proximity to every section of the city. To be bluntly self-interested, I do not want that rating jeopardized by providing services to people who choose to live outside of a city and do not contribute to the tax base.
(BTW/ a homeowner’s policy should pay the fire fee if you don’t live in a fire district.)
@PD Shaw: I would guess that any fire insurance policy would only be valid if the fee was paid. Around here if you don’t have fire protection you simply can’t get fire insurance.
I don’t agree with not having a remedy to free riders – and while I think this family should have paid, I still think they should have a system in place to deal with situations like this.
It’s incredible to me that the chief and mayor did not consider the ramifications of an event like this and have an answer for it – save the house and charge a 1000 bucks or something.
There is a way to make it work, and still deal with the idea of free riders.
When the mafia tries to set up protection schemes like this they get in trouble.
@doubter4444: The problem with this is how likely is it that someone living in a trailer in rural TN will have a thousand dollars to pay? If I were the city I would simply quit offering the option outside the city. That might force the county to do something.
Agreed, and it’s probably what they should have done in the first place, rather than try to supplement their budget by this ridiculous fee-for-service model. “Bad press” is really the best possible outcome from this policy…
I understand the arguments – but that is also supposing that there are many fires and many who don’t pay the fee.
It’s my guess that ONE fire like this one is a big enough event to make reasonable people reconsider not paying the fee.
Also, If there is rampant non-payment of fees then I understand that the facilities and equipment would be jeopardy but then there’s a larger systemic problem that obviously needs to be addressed. – why wait till the fire starts?
Why not address the situation in advance?
If there are only a few scattered non-payers, then the fine would act just fine – or am I missing something?
It is indeed the County’s problem. If I recall correctly the first time this happened (maybe in a different county?), the county had a vote a few years back and the voters said no to publicly-funded fire protection. The city offers a fee-for-service option.
The problem here is with the county that refuses to fund basic fire protection. The City probably should do something like what doubter444 suggests: save the house, and apply a punitive charge – to the family if they can pay, to the county if they cannot?
The free rider problem is real. I’d like to think there is a solution that does not involve standing by and watching a house burn down.
Obviously, I’m in favor of publicly-provided fire protection as the first best option.
@Ron Beasley: You may be right. Here is sample policy language:
But it would seem though that if the Fire Department were willing to extend coverage outside of its district, it should be able to safely assume that $500 would be paid by the insurance company. The link goes on to point out that the smaller fire department simply don’t have the manpower (particularly volunteer F.D.s) to sue to collect money.
And while we’re airing our peeves, the phrase is “just deserts.”
As long as we’re correcting things, it’s “dessert,” unless you’re talking about an arid, sandy piece of land.
Here is a possible alternate funding mechanism:
1) Allow people to opt into the fire protection scheme in advance for $75.
2) Allow people who have not opted in, but whose house is on fire, to opt in at that point for a larger fee, payable in an installment/interest plan if they don’t have the funds immediately on hand.
I guess that the actual 1000 dollars is less important that the lesson imparted – pay the 75 bucks.
Again, the real question I think: Is there rampant non-payment to the point that services for everyone are in jeopardy?
If so then it’s not about this one fire it’s a systemic issue that needs to be addressed.
If it’s only a few free-riders, then this can be a “teachable moment” – without the poor SOB’s losing everything
I think one thing being overlooked here is the lack of value in fire service in rural area. For one thing, even small cities tend to rely on volunteers, who may or may not be able to respond quickly. But the main problem, as I watched my neighbor’s house burn several years go is that fire protection is primarily about containment and life rescue. The fire department got there within five minutes of my call, they swept the trees, the outside, tried to point water through windows, but it was only when the fire had burnt a hole in the roof, that they could dump a small lake through the house and extinguish it. The insides were lost to fire, smoke and water. My house is about twenty feet from my neighbor’s and I benefitted a lot from fire protection, my neighbor not so much.
Yeah, which I think is why the fire department goes out in cases like this, even though the people hadn’t paid their $75. To make sure it didn’t spread.
Well, they could go the route of putting out the fire and then levying a $5,000 or $10,000 bill on them, with a priority lien on the property then foreclose and take the property within the year? Would you like that better? Or would JP up there be here complaining how the fire department didn’t donate the taxpayer’s money to help out those who won’t help themselves?
Or how about we mandate everyone carry collision and comprehensive on their car. I mean, even Barack Obama upon graduating from the Ivy League didn’t understand the difference between liability and collision/comprehensive. And if you total your car, you’ve lost your way to work, to pick up the kids, etc. Oh, that’s right, after a certain age the bluebook on you car won’t buy you a used scooter.
Look, you live out in the county, you take certain risks. One is, even with the fee paid, you house could be beyond saving by the time they call in the volunteers, they get to the station, they drive the 5 or 10 miles to your house, they navigate fire trucks up the gravel roads and driveway. Oh, only to discover the nearest hydrant a mile or so away isn’t working and there was a glitch in the water companies notification of the fire department.
Also, it take the deputies a half hour to get there so you need to be armed to hold off roving bands of nannystate liberals. And the rescue/ambulance will take maybe an hour so you need to be able to control the bleeding yourself for a bit.
Personally, I’d say these fire departments need to implement the subscription or large bill system. I’ve seen both in Tennessee. The legislature should mandate the bill must be paid within a year or the property can be foreclosed in a streamlined process. The problem with people who might risk the fee, is that they deprive the fire service of revenue needed to maintain and replace equipment and conduct training. (not necessarily in this specific instance since the department was not strictly subscription service as many are when they only cover the unincorporated areas).
This strikes me as being similar to health care…you don’t refuse to care for sick people…and you don’t let houses burn down.
And yet, some clearly think that we should let the sick die and let the houses burn.
The Fire Dept. policy is that it will, without fee or coverage, attempt to save lives. Thus, it will respond to an out-of-coverage-area fire. Attempting to stop the spread of a fire to other homes (which may or may not be covered) is both a courtesy and practical. Bad press for allowing a house to burn to the ground is far better than bad press about allowing a baby to burn to death.
Knowing a few folks who live in mobile homes, I also know that they do not have insurance of any kind unless somebody’s job provides it. They don’t have insurance on the trailer unless it’s still under mortgage. They don’t have renter’s insurance. They don’t have life or health insurance. They have the minimal car insurance that state law requires… usually.
Notably, they do have habits which, if stopped or at least moderated, could produce the $75.00/yr fee the FD levies. People make bad choices; sometimes those choices come back to bite them.
Regardless of whether insurance is a racket, it’s the way things are done at present. If you don’t insure, you assume risks, even one’s you didn’t really think about. As the saying goes, Stercus accidit.
I’m sure my son did not care for his parents’ browbeating him into paying for health insurance out of his first, paltry paychecks. The first time he ran into multi-thousand-dollar medical bills, he allowed that perhaps we were growing smarter in our elder years.
Well actually… “Deserts”, in addition to meaning an arid sandy area is also the noun form of “deserve” (see third definition: http://m.dictionary.com/d/?q=Desert&submit-result-SEARCHD=Search).
I believe either just desserts or just deserts is considered appropriate for the phrase, as they both can be taken to mean the same thing, but I get th feeling just deserts is more correct.
Wow. Just … wow.
Am I the only person on this board that’s ever heard of a Volunteer Fire Department? Fact is, many places in Rural America can’t afford a paid fire department. They can barely afford to keep the Volunteer Fire Department in place.
There is a huge assumption by many (most as of this posting, @PD Shaw being the exception) that having a Fire Department means having a paid fire department.
What I want to know is “why is there not a fire department assigned to that area?” I can’t think of a single place in PA where I could go where there was no fire department. It might not be close, but it would be there.
Once upon a time in America, people helped people. Now we just charge and bitch about the cost.
@legion: Maybe they show up to say ha ha. They have to live with themselves and the others who will look upon them as Damned ass*&^$.
I live in the back woods and we have a volunteer fire dept, that is funded through state taxes. In small communities like this you would not be able to hold your head up if you let this happen. If a cop or doctor turned their backs on a citizen they would be brought up on charges of unethical behavior. Why not these guys.
@John D’Geek: Indeed, over 70% of all fire personnel in the U.S. are volunteers.
In Illinois, I guess my assumption would be the opposite; I assume that if I move out into the country, I wouldn’t have fire service.
After watching the house across the street from where I live burn a few years ago and the ensuing work done my our local FD to fight the fire, I can easily believe a deployed FD fighting a fire would be more costly than one that shows up to monitor a situation, (number of persons, wear and tear on equipment, liability and health coverage for fire fighters.). A fire engine and crew that is not fighting a fire is also available for call from a residence that is covered. But, yes the practice does seem more than a little odd to me, they should have a coverage area and stick to it, and they should look at ways to cover areas that make sense. Though I didn’t see if they always show up for non-covered residences, or just do some times.
What slack capacity? It sounds to me like they’ve instituted the annual fee, for outside the city, for areas they wouldn’t have the capacity to cover otherwise. Just because they every member of the FD isn’t fighting a fire every minute of every day doesn’t mean they have slack capacity. If they use up their yearly budget in 9 months covering an area twice the size of the tax base what capacity do they have left for the other 3 months of the year.
Yes and there is reciprocity or at least the chance of reciprocity in these cases. Are the people without out a FD going to show up in the city to start helping the FD fight fires?
Hope they don’t have any bookkeeping errors and allow a paying customer’s house to burn.
Both the town I grew up in and the town in which I now live have volunteer FDs. It’s not that I don’t know they exist. It’s that I know they still require some public funding. I’m sure they’re cheaper than professional FDs, but they are not free.
Which brings us back to the funding debate and the free rider issue here.
It would be naive to think that accidents like that don’t happen, even for the “automatically” covered city residents. (I’m assuming you are just trying to be snarky rather than being naive). It certainly could have some impact on the City’s insurance premiums or liability if they’re self-insured. I’ve heard of a number of cases of FD’s not responding in time or not being able to find a house, at least not in time to save it. (… but then I live close to Detroit)
Let the sick die, not necessarily. Triage is a complicated thing.
But let the houses burn? Absolutely. We peg a lot of psychological meaning on a “home,” but at the end of the day a house is just stuff. It’s a building, with things inside it, and it can be rebuilt. And protection for property is implicitly less important than protection for people’s lives.
Steven, they think that as a hypothetical exercise. As soon as it actually happens they are apoplectic that such a thing was allowed to happen. It’s no different than the tea party demanding welfare be cut but then freaking out when their medicare is on the chopping block.
People love hypotheticals. They’re much less in support of the actual policies which of course have downsides.
Except that fire, like disease, has this nasty habit of spreading if not quickly and competently contained.
When Mrs. O’Leary’s cow knocks over a lamp in a city with 12,000 people per square mile (Chicago), the risks are much different than when the lamp is knocked over in a county with 10 people per square mile (Pope, IL).
In addition I question the sanity of someone who will sit in a fire-truck and watch a house burn. I mean seriously…
No question the owner should have paid their bill…but you put out the fire and ask questions later. I’m guessing if my house is on fire and you put it out I will gladly pay you the $75.
Relative to the PPACA…I saw somewhere that the un-insured cost the insured around $1.5B a year. I know Washington state did a study and found that uncompensated costs add $900 a year to the premiums of insured families.
Contain it so it does not spread to an adjacent dwelling.
Except the $75.00 isn’t for each occurrence or even one occurrence of a fire. It’s to spread and share the costs/risks over a large population. If you’re willing to pay on spot for one fire extinguishing service you might pay $1,000.00, $5,000.00 or more. Maybe you get a discount if ACME is the provider.
Again- why is the idea of a countywide tax to fund a FD so abhorrent, so outrageous an injustice?
@Liberty60: It’s not necessarily abhorrent per se, it’s that the local gov’t may not have the legal authority to levy such a tax. I don’t actually _know_ if that’s why these homes aren’t covered by any other FD, but that’s one rational argument (probably the only one) I’ve heard for this being a fee rather than a tax.
@rodney dill: Indeed. And to move the discussion back to health care, this is exactly why the mandate is there. If you allow people to go without insurance or fire service until they need it, then charge them the same amount to get it that you would have if they had been paying for it when they don’t need it, few get either fire service or insurance until they need it. The system breaks down. So you have a mandate or an account pool that everybody has to chip into, or you account for those who don’t/can’t in some way that doesn’t encourage people to free ride.
On to the subject of the post itself, it mainly succeeds in knocking down the most extreme variation of the opposition’s view. Very few people would argue that having a public fire department is not a good idea, especially from an ideological standpoint. I doubt that the people of Obion County are so libertarian as to be opposed to fire protection. The situation there was (t seems to me) not deliberate policy but rather a combination of circumstances and miscalculations. Taylor, perhaps inadvertently, represents it as a general fee-for-service model. In my view, it has more to do with the county trying to free-ride off the city, or being on the wrong end of the equivalent of an insurance calculation (not unlike the decision my wife and I made on renters insurance).
As far as how analogous this is to health insurance, that is a matter of perspective. One can view fire protection service and health insurance in different lights because they are actually different things. Objecting to the latter is not objecting to the former, and objecting to one but not to the other is not inherently inconsistent. To use this to make the argument for a mandate or universal health care is dependent on specific assumptions.
None of this is to say that I didn’t like the post, Dr. T. I actually did. More as an analysis than any sort of argument, however. And I don’t think it’s the case that people who have come to differing conclusions are not being honest with themselves or us about the implications of those conclusions.
@Trumwill: Thanks for the comments.
Just to be clear: my point was not that fire protection and health insurance are identical goods,but rather that there are philosophical (as well as practical policy) similarities between the two in terms of the question of amount of coverage, how it is funded, and the implications of lack of universality.
I am also trying to spur thought (my own as well, for what it is worth) on the question of the appropriate scope of government and the implications of policy choices.
From a marketing perspective, it seems that the South Fulton FD is really bad at converting a very motivated prospect into a paying customer.
“We’ll put out your fire for $75 and $75 per year you’ve lived in the county, plus interest. Deal?”
A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing.
Here’s a good video primer on closing the deal, Mamet-style.
Some good information here:
For those outside city limits, that price is $75 a year. There are about 900 homes are in that area and 700 households pay the fee. That equals about $53,000 per year for the fire department.
The South Fulton Fire Chief said that’s about a quarter of their annual budget but nearly half of their fires are fought in the rural area. The mayor admitted it’s a system that’s far from perfect.
The county mayor said folks could expect a 50 percent property tax increase to pay for countywide fire department. He said he seriously doubts that will happen anytime soon because people couldn’t handle that much of a tax increase.
But apparently the idea of a tax to fund a fire department IS considered too abhorrent or outrageous, because this is not the first time this has happened in that county.
Even after it happened the first time, apparently there STILL isn’t enough political will to make such a thing happen.
This outcome is by design, not some inadvertant oversight.
@John D’Geek: Many members of my family are volunteer fire fighters. You’re hitting the nail on the head..
Feel free to cover your outraged morality by paying for this guys house. It is easy to be outraged when it comes to other people’s money, labor and resources.
@Trumwill: I doubt its libertarianism. I’ve driven through this county — its low density and didn’t strike me as very well-to-do. I doubt that I would support the tax increase if I lived there because I would be extremely skeptical that in the event of a fire the volunteer fire dept. would get there in time unless the fire stations were well-manned and close. I’d be more supportive if I lived in a McMansion than a trailer and probably engaged in promoting a good site selection that would benefit me and wonder why the people in the mobile homes are so cynical all of the time.
@PD Shaw & @ponce:
I’ve been doing some digging around on Obion County (thanks for sharing the link, Ponce). The results are interesting. I can’t speak for Ms. Bell, but the guy it happened to last time actually lived all of three miles outside of South Fulton. In the city where I was raised, unincorporated areas can become what are called “Service Zones” and sign contracts for law enforcement and fire services. I guess that’s either not an option in Tennessee or the residents can’t get organized. South Fulton is located on the far northeast portion of the county, so it couldn’t logically be used to service all that much of the county. It’s just had the misfortune of being the place where the fires have occurred.
In the middle of the county is Union City. Interestingly, Union City is not only the county seat, but the largest city in the county (notably larger than South Fulton and Fulton put together). So if South Fulton has a fire department, one would think Union City would as well. Do they have the same policy as South Fulton? If not, what do they do? Have they just had good luck that this sort of thing hasn’t happened to them?
I am a bit curious as to why the County Mayor jumped jumped immediately from the status quo to a county fire department without explaining why the third solution, contracting it out to cities, was a bad idea. Maybe it is. There seem to be only two viable cities for fire departments, UC and SF. But since UC is in the middle of the county, I’m not sure why you couldn’t piggy-back on that and at least have service 20 minutes away from just about anywhere in the county. Maybe, as Shaw says, they just wouldn’t go for it because 20 minutes isn’t close enough to pay for.
Looking at the county, though, I can see why a county-wide fire department wouldn’t be… tough… economically. To answer @Liberty60‘s question, it’s not due to an alergy to taxes, but most likely because a county that large and that sparsely populated (outside of UC and SF) cannot economically justify you. You have to take your chances with the fire. A 50% tax increase is nothing to sneeze at. Not because you hate taxes, but because you simply can’t afford it.
If this were a normal government-run FD, you’d just have universal coverage with a levied tax, and we wouldn’t have to watch houses burn.
If this happened in Libertarian Land, the FD would put out the fire (hopefully), and then simply come back to collect the money later, lest they lose a customer and $$.
Instead, this town has a government monopoly + fee-for-service FD (just like we all have with our healthcare system). Bad combination. I think this is actually a great metaphor, Steven, although I don’t know if you meant to explore the nature of government-supported monopolies.
It is about basic human decency. You can pay the fee after the fact. Do you refuse to pay a fee and let cops stand by and watch someone being murdered? Have we strayed so far into libertarian theology that we forget decency? To me it has nothing to do with the $75 bucks and everything to do with being our brother’s keeper. Decency is decency. To allow a family to lose everything over such a small amount of money, probably to teach a lesson, is just plain freakish. I suspect if the owner of the residence were someone important, or related to someone important their home would have been saved.
The Pink Flamingo
@SJ Reidhead: If you get to pay the fee after the fact, who is going to pay the fee before-the-fact, and where is the fire department going to get the money to continue operations? The fire department doesn’t have stockholders to answer to, but they (or their city, to whom the rural residents are paying no taxes) do still have bills to pay.
We used to live in Martinez,GA a suburb of Augusta,GA and we had a fee based fire protection system with the local fire department. It was completely funded by property owners paying a fee based on the size of their home. If I remember correctly we paid $130.00 a year for coverage. The fire department would respond to a fire regardless if you paid or not, they would save people in the fire, but if you hadnt paid your dues they would not put the fire out. It seems harsh but they were not a volunteer fire dept or funded with tax dollars. It might seem harsh to not put your fire out but the same goes if you don’t pay your insurance premiums and you have an accident or your house burns down etc.. If an area is unwilling as alot are today to taxes paying for their services then they will have to pay a la carte for them. Its a business to them, if you don’t pay then you don’t receive service.
You’re invoking emotions that aren’t in evidence. There are reasons of feasibility, practicality, logistics, cost, timing, who knows… that are possible rather than just thinking taxes to fund an FD are abhorrent or outrageous. I agree there are those anti-taxers that would think that, but that’s not necessarily the driving factor in all cases.
I lay some of the blame for situations like this squarely on those of us who voted for his Lordship Ronnie Reagan. That was the beginning of the era where glib slogans replaced good management. Wingers always like to quote Reagan when he mocked government workers by laughing at the idea of anyone being happy to hear “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”. Considering that the bulk of our non-defense local, state and federal budget goes to police, fire, education, and medical services, the reality is the opposite. If my house was on fire I’d be darn glad to hear a fireman say “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”. But the modern Republican party just doesn’t attract anyone to office who can think beyond stupid slogans. And it certainly doesn’t attract anyone to office who is willing to put in the hard work it takes to understand and manage the functions they are in charge of.
Of course the fact that the house in question was outside the incorporated limits of the city and the city had no taxing authority or obligation to the home owner was not important facts to put in the article.
many comments reflect the nanny state attitude. In a healthy society, an individual is responsible for his actions. That is what happened here. ADditionally the homeowner refused to accept the $2200 fee for service offered at the sight. The homeowner stated they were aware of the policy of not putting out fires for non participating homeowners.
Grow up America, the rest of us don’t owe you anything.
@Trumwill: I think expanding the municipal fire districts was a problem because all of the municipal fire districts in the county are operated by volunteers, and inference was made in the country proposal that they were trained very well. Also, a question was raised that the municipal fire departments lacked authority to collect outside their jurisdiction. I don’t if that’s a reality of a volunteer force that doesn’t have the manpower to collect or the operation of Dillon’s Rule.
I also think little attention has been given to the liability issues this poses. Small communities are particularly vulnerable to the “big lawsuit” that eats the entire budget for a year.
inference was made in the county proposal that they were not trained very well
@Julie: It doesn`t warrant a kick while your down either.
You have made my case for me.
Apparently you would be happy to cross your arms and watch your neighbor’s house burn, simply to avoid having to pay a tax.
@Rodney Dill- the idea that there is simply no possible way to fund and establish a fire department to cover rural areas is nonsense- rural counties all across America do it all the time. For example, some have state funds to cover the lack of tax base, others pool regional resources, and so on. This isn’t rocket science.
The fact is, there just isn’t the will or desire in that area to make such a thing happen.
I totally agree with that. What I completely disagree with is the conclusion that
That taxation is considered too abhorrent or too outrageous being the reason is not always the case, and I don’t believe that conclusion can be reached here.
Which you seem to conclude yourself here.
For some reason, in some areas its not being done, and we don’t always know the reason.
@mantis: Or something that one deserves….
The cold calculation is probably that approximately 60% of the people in the county (pop. 32,450) already live in a municipality with fire protection services. An additional x% in the rural areas are probably fine with a $75 fee. An additional y% probably live in rural areas (in mobile homes) partly to avoide city taxes and fees. No majoritarian consensus is possible that the enlightened commentariot can fathom.
@SJ Reidhead: Part of my argument is that this isn’t actually libertarian at all – it’s about monopoly. A libertarian FD would have put the fire out. And this isn’t a small point – sometimes the worst system is a poorly designed hybrid of monopoly (whether private or subsidized) and government. It’s not fair to blame this on libertarians, since they have never argued for the type of FD we’re seeing here.
I have to call you on that. I don’t know what libertarians today are arguing for, but the original libertarians of the 80’s were arguing for exactly this kind of FD and exactly this kind of outcome.
@MarkedMan: I can’t say that I know if 80’s Libs were arguing to let the house burn down (I’ve heard things just as callous from Libs), but I don’t think they’ve ever argued for a city-run, fee-for-service FD as opposed to a purely private FD.
I raised the point less because I care what the libertarians think about FD’s, but more because getting the analogy right makes a huge difference in how we approach our healthcare system, which is often described as “private” or “for-profit” but is neither of these things and makes patients suffer for separate reasons.
Don’t go full retard Kreskin…never go full retard.
Sure, that is exactly how libertarians would react.
Where is this argument being made?
Just to be clear for the mental midgets commenting here in this thread…
There are a variety of forms of libertarianism. The most typical form acknowledges that when there is a market failure this is a necessary condition for government intervention. It may not be a sufficient condition, though. The issue fire departments, police services, a legal system, and other public services often are where you find market failure…
So it is not at all true that all libertarians would object to a county wide tax for a fire department or a police department. About the only form of libertarianism that would object to such a tax is at the extreme end of the spectrum where you find the anarchists. And even here there are two types the anarcho-capitalists and the anarcho-communists.
And it isn’t that they object to the idea of a fire department that puts out 100% of all the fires (or at least tries too), but that there is this thing called government.
And for special idiots like Liberty60 the anarchist would likely find it rather ironic that you are calling them sociopaths when you are clearly espousing an entity that has a legal monopoly to use force and violence against its own citizens. And even still some anarcho-capitalists, e.g. David Friedman, would admit that if the issue with market failures are “too large” in scope then anarchy is not feasible.
So it isn’t that libertarians or even anarchist would stand impassively by while people’s houses burned down or were dying in the streets. I know it is easy to vilify the opposition with horrific sounding outcomes instead of dealing with their actual positions, but it is also an indication that such people lack the intellectual ability to actually deal with the oppositions arguments.
So apropo this thread:
How’s that for having a discussion of this issue. Jackass.
Oh and yeah, I know Somalia. You mental midgets keep waving that around like some sort of talisman. However, a better example of an anarchist society would the the Ukrainian Free Territory.
I see you are going for maximum persuasive effort.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Nope, that was gone when I was lumped in with sociopaths….I knowingly chose the words I did.
And to point out the irony of “Liberty”60’s world view…..
It is horrible that a fee-for-service fire department doesn’t put out a fire at a home where the owner didn’t pay the $75. But it is just great when a SWAT team breaks into a home, kills the family dog, and terrorizes (and some really tragic cases kills) the occupants all because one of the occupants decided to put something in his body others think is bad…like marijuana.
See what I did there? No. Probably most of you wont quite get it.
All well and good, but if the point is persuasion, I am guessing you lost everyone from the get go. Why even bother writing from there?
(And I don’t see Liberty60 endorsing no knock raids..did I miss something?).
There are volunteer FDs all over America. the homeowner made a decision to accept the risk and lost the bet. If my neighbor’s house was on fire I would help him out. I would also be active in supporting the no service for people not participating in the voluntary program.
In the not so distant past, children were taught decisions have consequences. The nanny state education system has replaced that concept with the government owes you.
A once great nation slides deeper into decay because individual responsibility is no longer required. Disgusting!
In the not so distant past states and counties were run by citizens who were adult enough to levy a tax upon themselves to fund things like fire departments, police departments, and so on.
Your argument of personal responsibility would have merit if there were no other way to fight fires.
But the citizens in that area consciously chose to make firefighting an “every man for himself” system, instead of levying sufficient taxes.
Its that “I am an island” mentality that is not just incoherent but sociopathic in its disconnection from the notion of belonging to a community.
The idea that we all belong to a community, and that we share a commone enemy in fires, crime, and foreign invasion is the most basic principle of what it means to be a citizen.
And in case anyone is wondering- I am a loud opponent of no-knock raids and the militarization of the police in general.
I’d be incline to cut some slack when someone’s ideology is described as borderline sociopathic. That said, in my experience here, Mr. Verdon always treats opposing viewpoints as being espoused by “mental midgets” and so forth. Liberty may have baited him, sure. But that’s Verdon as usual so far as I can tell (except for the FOADIAF bit). I know, since I’ve encountered it myself, without having first labelled his ideology as [insert offensive term here].
The sad part is that the rest of his comment is quite reasonable.
As for the no-knock thing, obviously Mr. Libertarian’s argument is that statism is statism is statism. Therefore, enabling the state to do X means you enable it to do Y, even if you vehemently disagree with & actively oppose Y.
I don’t buy it, but that’s pretty standard libertarian argument.
The only really salient point about the “poor nanny state” nonsense you are going on about is your comment from the article that perhaps most did not catch: The home owner had the chance to pay $2200 (I don’t know if it was on the spot or he was told that’s what it was going to cost him) and refused. If he had the option and chose not to, then, it’s his own damn fault, full stop.
So two things, neither make your point, that we are regressing into into pabulum coddled wimps.
1: As mentioned, if he had the chance to do pay a higher fee and would not, how is that a nanny state issue, and not a horses ass issue? To extrapolate that his actions were the product of the welfare state is a very long leap at best, and is without any substantiation.
2: That educational system is to blame for children not being able to make choices has nothing to do with the issue and is laughable on it’s face – I mean isn’t up to parents to instill that? Are you honestly saying that decades of public schooling is the culprit for this specific act? Or are you saying that public education has created a generation freeloaders?
That If we paid for schools individually rather than in a tax or if all schools were private we would be a nation of boot strapping individualists, able to make correct choices?
Or that the parents because of the insidious nature of public education raised generations of freeloading non fee payers?
That’s crazy, man, crazy.
@Liberty60: @Rob in CT:
Yep, Rob, that’s classic Verdon: Label everyone an idiot who disagrees and call it a day.
I see this as nothing more than the consequence of people’s decision to opt out of the funding of the town’s fire service. The homeowners decided to not pay the $75 and as a consequence did not have their house saved by the fire service. If they also did not pay their home fire insurance policy, they won’t be getting that either.We have to be responsible for our actions and the fire service was right in not putting out the fire.
Perhaps they should make the fee $75 if you pay in advance or $5000 for same-day sign-up. “just sign this lien on your house right here and we’ll get the hoses out.”
@Nightrider: $5,000 seems steep, but the principle is sound. How about $1,000 (10 years of payments + a $250 “late” fee)? If the people can show they’ve lived at the address less than 10 years, maybe they can get some of that refunded.
The residents of the unincorporated county have repeatedly voted against having one. If the county government were to form a VFD and give it funding, then it could go to FEMA for grant assistance, but because it won’t, it can’t.
For those saying “bill them afterwards” — they tried that, had under 50% payment, and there are jurisdictional issues that apparently prevent legal recourse like liens. The FDs hands are tied by the city government, and the city government’s decision is because you need money, not wishes, to run a fire department. (I can imagine another story from this county, where a city resident’s house burns down because the fire department is fighting a fire by someone who didn’t pay the $75, just to avoid the bad publicity.)
This is like the old joke about asking directions in the middle of nowhere: “You want to get there? Oh, well I wouldn’t start from here.”
One further point: the article linked by ponce upthread notes that the bulk of the South Fulton FD’s calls are to the unincorporated county: that’s unsurprising, since the county residents probably don’t get garbage service and burn their own trash and brush (the fire last year was started from a burnoff of trash).
Going back to Steven’s original question: for fire service, I think it’s pretty obvious that history guides us to option 1, and that any attempt to deviate from it simply unearths the forgotten reasons why universal municipal provision became the consensus option a long time ago. (Main reason: fire spreads.) I personally think that the same principle applies at least to a foundational level of healthcare, with private insurance as a supplement, but getting from here to there in the US is a tricky route indeed.
Given the messiness of all of this and all the problems involved in a “pay-for-your-own-fire-department” that everyone has pointed out, the only solution I can see working is that the fire department works only within its own jurisdiction, paid for by taxes levied on those living in that area. If you live outside the jurisdictional area, you’re on your own. Band together with your neighbors and decide how you want to protect yourself.
@rodney dill: Do you even know if they are “complaining” about the fire department’s inaction? If you don’t know their story, then you ought to reserve judgment. I know reserving judgment is a challenge for many righties, because you are all about judging others on limited information, but do try.
Has it ever occurred to these numbskulls that house fires should be put out for reasons other than saving the homeowners’ property? A house fire can release all sorts of nasty toxins and particulates into the atmosphere. As just one example, vinyl siding releases a variety of toxic fumes when it burns, including dioxins. Lord know what might be released by the burning of stored paints, fuels and sundry household chemicals. How about lead paint? A heating oil tank might burst and contaminate nearby wells. A house fire could trigger a fatal asthma attack miles away. It is irresponsibility of the first rank to let houses burn over a lousy $75. We all ultimately pay for such idiocy.
@stratplayer: What judgement are you referring to? I can’t find anything in my comments that I believe to be highly judgmental. I mostly comments on the slant of other comments rather than the people affected that didn’t pay up. You seem to be the one making a judgement on limited information. Must be a lefty thing.
@rodney dill: You assumed that if they had had no insurance they would be complaining to an insurance company for not covering their losses. How do you know that? You’re assuming that they are deadbeats and parasites. You know nothing at all about these people. What gives you the right to say such things about them?
I can or could understand to a point if it were an A/B choice. Two fires get called in at the very same time. One person has paid the fee….the other hasn’t. The fire chief or whoever it is that chooses….has to make a choice which family to help. Which home to you save? If these fire fighters aren’t employed to another fire….they should have saved the home. It was the right thing to do. In my property taxes…there’s a local school tax I pay. Both of kids don’t go to these schools, but I still am obligated to pay the tax and I’m ok with that. It contributes to the general well being of the neighborhood, the community where we live. It raises the quality of life for everyone. Such is having a fire fighter team to deal with a home fire like this. Insurance companies benefit from having the firemen….what does a home owner’s policy say about paying the local fee for this? Include it in the insurance.
@stratplayer: Maybe this is too abstract for you to understand but the dialog is with others that commented on the post. Many seem to believe that the fire department should put out a fire for a non-paying non-city residents, that are in a region that the city FD has chosen to extend is coverage to on a pay per annual fee or pay per use basis. I put forth an analogy on how ridiculous I believed it to be to expect to get services for nothing. I don’t have any idea if any of the people that actually live in this area are deadbeats or not, that is not really germane to the discussion. That being said do you now have anything substantial to add to the discussion or did you just show up to throw out vague insults to people of other political beliefs than your own?
Is the area of this fire anywhere nice houses might be built? When I think of the bible belt I think hurricaines, floods and natural disasters that are inhabited by Johnny Reb, White lightnin’ and good old boys that don’t know why they vote republican but it has something to do with the confederacy.The fact that there are so many trailers there is not wasted on me. The home of American white trash,moonshine NASCAR and anti-revenuer’s has got to have a home and this is it,If my home burns down it’s my fault but where’s the” gubmint” when you need um – out giving my money to someone in another country. They should have paved my street and put out the fire for me, I pay a few taxes on PBR,Copenhagen and such.
I’m proud to pay my fair share and I know this isn’t a perfect system. It would get closer if somefolks understood the questions before answering on behalf of the neighborhood. It isn’t just the south. Out here in California I had a customer that said “It’s right there in the constitution that the states have got the upper hand on any laws they write,so why are the feds taking my money and my marijuana.-California made it legal so it’s !!!!!!@$ legal! they are every where. Don’t do drugs,keep your kids in school and don’t watch FOX for all your news. May God, Jehovah,Buddha ,Mohammed, and any higher ower that is watching pray for the USA. I’m sure if you work for a living,you are trying to help turn America around. That isn’t enough. What happened to all that money Mazoff and his banker buddies made off with? Why didn’t we invade the Bahamas to get it back instead of just accepting that the next generation is screwed. Why did we bail out anybody? How did Walmart get away with putting small town American out of business. Why don’y we make ANYTHING? You voted in the same people that took your jobs and you could have looked at their voting record but you were too busy voting like your friends. Now it’s time to read real news,not watch 1 station and remember we(The Americans who still read and care) want to turn this around. If you not make more than 250,000 bucks a year and vote republican,you need to have your head examined. God and the rest bless America!
@Rob in CT: Late, but I would agree that this is more tragic and complex, and the fire department is not in a good spot here. No doubt the rural residents are the worst sort of penny-wise, pound-foolish low taxation types, and are overwhelmingly to blame for this state of affairs. But it can’t be good for firefighter morale for them to stand by and watch a home burn to the ground.
Just thinking maybe the county could pass a law allowing the city fire department to collect if they put out the fire, including a lien against your property if you failed to pay the fine/fee. Might work?
@legion: They responded to make sure no one was injured. They would would not have watched while people died. They also needed to prevent fire from spreading to fee-paying property owners.
The pioneer of privatized fire departments was Marcus Licinius Crassus, one of the big swinging penii who helped bring down the Roman Republic. One of the sources of Crassus’ vast fortunes was a team that would show up at the scene of a fire and then negotiate the fee for putting out the blaze, while the house was still burning. Geez, at least Crassus haggled with the homeowner.
Description of the day.
To flame the jackass. To point what a moron he is. And it isn’t just him. Quite a few think, “Oh libertarian, he just wants to eat his foi gras and everyone else can piss off.” Yeah, I’m rich…right. I make decent money, but it doesn’t go nearly as far in CA as it would in MO, but I am most definitely not rich by any stretch of the word.
And no, he doesn’t support no-knock raids like I don’t see the suffering and losses of others as inconsequential. As I said, I doubted that most would get what I wrote.
Sort of, your description is only partially correct. You see that is precisely the line of thinking behind Liberty60’s post. Like I said I didn’t think most people would get it. The “see what I did there” line was indicating rather obviously the sarcasm of my comment.
The bottomline is that Liberty60 just like Michael Reynolds and steve have their own mental construct of what it means to be libertarian, and to Hell with the actual beliefs of the rather diverse group of people who adopt the term libertarian.