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Obion County, TN home burns
December 8, 2011 6:37 PM   Subscribe

Obion County, TN home burns while South Fulton firefighters watch, again. The City of South Fulton FD offers surrounding Obion County residents firefighting services for a $75 annual subscription, but not all county residents choose to subscribe (previously).
The last time this happened, the city of South Fulton, Tennessee, received a lot of heat nationwide for this policy. That was more than a year ago but nothing has changed.

The mayor said it comes down to simple business. If they don't collect fire fees, the fire department can't survive and if they make exceptions to the rule, no one will ever pay the fee.
Obion County lacks a fire department (pdf) and county residents, who do not pay taxes for firefighting, are provided firefighting services through local cities and towns, either by annual subscription or a per-call fee.
posted by 6550 (227 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wonder if mortgage companies require mortgagors in such areas to subscribe (or if they will going forward).

Similarly, I wonder if insurance companies hike their rates on people who don't subscribe (or even refuse to cover them altogether).
posted by Flunkie at 6:44 PM on December 8, 2011


Strangely, I was fairly vehemently against this the last go-round but now am not so sympathetic to the victims in this case. Hopefully, the county's residents won't need a third lesson.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:46 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


i wonder if they'd just stand there and watch if the family was trapped inside.
posted by nadawi at 6:47 PM on December 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


If you make a single poor judgement call, you deserve to have your life destroyed, if you aren't killed outright! It's a libertarian wonderland!
posted by FatherDagon at 6:47 PM on December 8, 2011 [69 favorites]


"Fire fees"? Are those like the "sidewalk fees" I pay to have sidewalks in my neighborhood?
posted by uosuaq at 6:47 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm glad I subscribe to 'firefighting' on amazon, cause this whole social contract thing is not really working out.
posted by localhuman at 6:49 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


"There's no way to go to every fire and keep up the manpower, the equipment, and just the funding for the fire department," Mayor David Crocker said.

*watches a house burn down*
posted by p3on at 6:49 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


One would say it's crazy they didn't pay the fee after last year's fire. But that's just human nature, to understand the odds and run the risk.

Perhaps there should be an individual mandate.

i wonder if they'd just stand there and watch if the family was trapped inside.

Probably not, that's why firefighters come out, to make sure no one dies and contain the fire.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:49 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Fire fees" are more like what you get when you formulate a sensible taxation plan to pay for necessary public services, and then do the exact fucking opposite.
posted by FatherDagon at 6:50 PM on December 8, 2011 [36 favorites]


How do they know whether someone is trapped in the house?
posted by Dasein at 6:50 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't see why they don't allow people to pay full price for the cost of the fire itself, like maybe $2000 or something.
posted by delmoi at 6:51 PM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


@FatherDagon:

It's not a single poor judgement call. From reading an earlier article, they also didn't have any insurance on the house.
posted by parliboy at 6:51 PM on December 8, 2011


Some of the more hysterical comments are overlooking the fact that the former homeowner still has $75.
posted by planet at 6:51 PM on December 8, 2011 [52 favorites]


Don't firefighters take an oath, like cops and physicians, that binds them? If not, they should.
posted by jonmc at 6:52 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I envision a future where all social contracts are optional and you can subscribe or unsubscribe to (say) the Fourth Amendment for a low annual fee of $1,999.99 or something.
posted by Avenger at 6:52 PM on December 8, 2011 [36 favorites]


So are houses there spaced far enough out that fire can't jump between them?
posted by octothorpe at 6:52 PM on December 8, 2011


But that's just human nature, to understand the odds and run the risk.

Human beings are actually extremely poor estimators of risk.
posted by anifinder at 6:52 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


i wonder if they'd just stand there and watch if the family was trapped inside.
I would like to think not, of course, but I read a different article on this same story recently, and I'm pretty sure it said something like "the family had to go in to the burning house to rescue their possessions themselves as the firemen watched".

I guess they're presumably not trapped, but the situation can change very rapidly in a burning building, and presumably one of the things that actively participating firemen do is to attempt to prevent the homeowners from acting upon the idea that retrieving their ottoman is totally worth the risk.
posted by Flunkie at 6:52 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


> I don't see why they don't allow people to pay full price for the cost of the fire itself, like maybe $2000 or something.

Well, presumably the fire department doesn't want to be in the business of collections. Maybe if the truck had a credit card reader? Or, maybe the fire truck captains could have smartphone card apps/readers. And, if your card was in your burning house maybe you could just log into their PayPal app.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:53 PM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


@FatherDagon:

It's not a single poor judgement call. From reading an earlier article, they also didn't have any insurance on the house.


Wow, just like if they had the stupidity to get cancer and not have health insurance! What fuckin' morons.
posted by FatherDagon at 6:53 PM on December 8, 2011 [14 favorites]


delmoi: I don't see why they don't allow people to pay full price for the cost of the fire itself, like maybe $2000 or something.

FWIW, I'm assuming it's at least an order of magnitude higher. Maybe 2 if you include the insurance risk for the firefighters.
posted by Decimask at 6:54 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Don't firefighters take an oath, like cops and physicians, that binds them?
Oaths are really only binding in fantasy novels.
posted by planet at 6:54 PM on December 8, 2011 [16 favorites]


I don't know for sure, but I'm thinking that in rural Tennessee, if $75 can buy fire protection you might need or food you do need, you opt for the food. Maybe I'm wrong and these folks did just pooh-pooh the fire fee, but I suspect it was one of those choices that wasn't really a choice.
posted by Legomancer at 6:55 PM on December 8, 2011 [14 favorites]


From the pdf, which has a lot of good info on the state of fire service in Obion County:

According to survey information, over 75% of all municipal fire department’s structure calls are rural. All fire departments in Obion County charge a $500.00 fee per call in rural areas, but collections are, less than 50% and the fire departments have no way of legally collecting the charge. Therefore, the service was provided at the expense of the municipal tax payer."
posted by 6550 at 6:55 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oaths are really only binding in fantasy novels.

Really? I think there are legal and/or professional consequences for violating them, at least sometimes, although I'm not a lawyer.

amd I'm not a big fan of fantasy novels, actually.
posted by jonmc at 6:57 PM on December 8, 2011


Yeah, here is the article that I mentioned. The applicable quote:
Firefighters arrived on the scene but as the fire raged, they simply stood by and did nothing. (...) Bell and her husband were forced to walk into the burning home in an attempt to retrieve their own belongings.
They were "forced".
posted by Flunkie at 6:57 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


The last time this happened, the city of South Fulton, Tennessee, received a lot of heat nationwide for this policy.

This seems like a poor choice of words.
posted by Leezie at 6:57 PM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Seems awfully ripe for a protection racket scheme... "Boy you got an awful flamable looking house there Ms Smith, I'd hate for anything to happen to it."
posted by edgeways at 6:57 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Don't firefighters take an oath, like cops and physicians, that binds them?

I'm not sure. But politicians take an oath. How well does that work out?
posted by The World Famous at 6:58 PM on December 8, 2011 [14 favorites]


But that's just human nature, to understand the odds and run the risk.

That not be "to NOT understand the odds..."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:58 PM on December 8, 2011


It's hard to be sympathetic towards people who have chosen, both at the collective county level and as an individual family, not to have fire protection. When you choose not to have fire protection, the consequence is you not having fire protection.

I don't see why they don't allow people to pay full price for the cost of the fire itself, like maybe $2000 or something.

I imagine they understand that they would be unlikely to actually get paid.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:59 PM on December 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


This is actually good practice if your goal is to maximize GDP. Now those former homeowners have to work extra hard and spend even more money on rebuilding. Waste not, want not... therefore, waste!
posted by mek at 7:00 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bell and her boyfriend admitted they were aware but thought this would never happen to them.

This "didn't think it could happen to us" attitude is what's causing the erosion of the social contract. Sickness can never happen to me, so we don't need universal health care. Joblessness can never happen to me, so we don't need job security or unemployment insurance. And why is the city getting "heat"? It's the rural area that decided that its residents should be able to opt out of basic services.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 7:01 PM on December 8, 2011 [53 favorites]


"Fire fees"? Are those like the "sidewalk fees" I pay to have sidewalks in my neighborhood?

You mean "taxes?"
posted by kdar at 7:01 PM on December 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm sure these folks just put their annual fire tax into an interest bearing account, along with the premium they would have paid on home insurance and othe insurance policies and took a calculated but higher risk tack to effectively self insure against potential catastrophic loss. Risky sure but in a balanced portfolio downside exposure is minimal.
posted by 2bucksplus at 7:02 PM on December 8, 2011 [13 favorites]


I'm not sure. But politicians take an oath. How well does that work out?

I get you. But if a physician is found to have violated his Hippocratic Oath, he loses his liscence to practice. If you lie under oath in court, you can be charged with perjury. So oaths that cops/firefighters/doctors/etc take can be used to verride political bullshit and I'm wondering if in this case that applies, as a tool of legal leverage , if nothing else.
posted by jonmc at 7:02 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hope that fire department has an excellent accountant.

"Steve? Hey, Steve. This is Fire Chief Jones. Did the Douglas family out on Route 12 pay their fire fee this year?"

"Hey, Chief Jones. Hold on, lemme check. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, you know. Their house is on fire."

"I see. Look, I'm down at the gym right now. Can I call you back in thirty or so?"

"Well, this is kind of important...."
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:02 PM on December 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


Seems awfully ripe for a protection racket scheme... "Boy you got an awful flamable looking house there Ms Smith, I'd hate for anything to happen to it."

As I recall, there was a Roman guy that ran a fire brigade (Cassius? Crassus?) and made his fortune in real estate by showing up as the house burned and collecting fees for putting out the fire. If the owner didn't pay up, he'd buy the burned land/structure off them at a greatly reduced price.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:03 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yes, Crassus did that.
posted by Flunkie at 7:03 PM on December 8, 2011


Maybe if the truck had a credit card reader? Or, maybe the fire truck captains could have smartphone card apps/readers. And, if your card was in your burning house maybe you could just log into their PayPal app.

If the house is already on fire, that's a pre-existing condition.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:04 PM on December 8, 2011 [24 favorites]


i know paternalism is bad and all, but it's objectively true that people are utterly shit at prediction and odds-making in real life. everyone thinks the chance of their house burning down is zero, and the odds of their winning the lottery are greater than zero.
posted by facetious at 7:05 PM on December 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


As I recall, there was a Roman guy that ran a fire brigade (Cassius? Crassus?

Yup, Crassus, although the fortune came more from the tenements he built on the sites of burnt-down homes and then slumlorded over.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:05 PM on December 8, 2011


It really seems like the biggest problem may be the weird city/county setup whereby it's possible to live outside the protection of a fire department in the first place (presumably to pay less taxes, though that's less of a bargain when you can't get any services).

I've read other defenders of this setup say, well, the firefighters do something by showing up and making sure the fire doesn't spread....to the houses that paid up. But...what if there's a whole road of houses that didn't pay (or say several homes on a lot)? Would they just let 'em all burn? Is there a limit to how far they'd let a fire spread?

I don't envy the firefighters here, what else can they do? In a sensible setup, taxes would pay for them. Barring a sensible setup, or even a volunteer bucket brigade, I guess it's Welcome to Libertarian Paradise.
posted by emjaybee at 7:06 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Couldn't the people in the area just decide to pay for fire protection for all as part of their taxes? But they don't.
posted by smackfu at 7:11 PM on December 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


hey little bird
fly away home
your house is on fire
and your children are alone
and you didn't cough up the 75 bucks
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:12 PM on December 8, 2011 [14 favorites]


My hope would be that instead of blaming the victims, who may have been too poor to pay the fire fee, the media clearly draws the (obvious to me and you, but, as we know, not obvious to many people in this country) line between adequate taxation and necessary public services. Because fuck if it isn't people who are in most need of some public services who are often the ones voting against them. You guys all know this, but there are so many people who don't that it's shocking and I'm tired of being pissed off about it.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:13 PM on December 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


I don't see why they don't allow people to pay full price for the cost of the fire itself, like maybe $2000 or something.


Delmoi, if they roll a single apparatus it cost roughly $500. For a fully involved structure fire, they have to dispatch a minimum of three vehicles in most jurisdictions I'm aware of in the United States. Actual fire suppression costs, if tabulated, would be significantly more costly (remember, you're paying for an extremely stringent level of training required nationally for municipal firefighters as well as equipment which is costly to purchase and keep in service as well as the firefighters' time on the hours that they aren't putting your house out - they are waiting, ready to go, at the station so that they can arrive within a few minutes of the 911 call). If I was throwing out a number, I'd be guessing 5-30k depending on the extent of the suppression effort.

Moreover, if the homeowner didn't want to pay the <$100 annual fee for fire protection,what makes you think they would pull out their wallet when presented with a bill? They could reasonably make the point that they didn't request assistance. Even if legally required to pay, to collect the fire department would have to employ bill collectors and possibly take homeowners to court.

There is a NPR piece from a year or two back about the full-time bill collectors that work in L.A. (can't remember if it is L.A. County or LAFD that charges, and I can't remember if they only charge if they transport patients to the hospital or also if the patients decline to be transported) and the extremely low rate of success they have in getting bills paid. Like, mid-twenties.
posted by arnicae at 7:15 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I live 45 minutes from Fulton and South Fulton. Mostly working class, some below the poverty line, some above, no huge money in either city. It is mostly the case that these folks only have money for one or the other, and not both, and that the fire department either is getting little funding or none from the county or city without these fire fees. In TN, this seems to be a quite common practice of having to pay for fire protection, and it's usually coupled as part of a water bill out in the more rural areas (used to work for a utility billing company, had a lot of districts that had this as part of their setup). There are always some constituents that pay and some that don't. That's just the risk that they take. I can see that it is a choice between food and fire sometimes after meeting some of the district's customers, but they also have to understand, someone's job depends on that funding too, so it's fire to get food for those firefighters.
posted by deezil at 7:15 PM on December 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


**one or the other** meant food or fire protection. It was an addendum and I forgot.
posted by deezil at 7:17 PM on December 8, 2011


As I recall, there was a Roman guy that ran a fire brigade (Cassius? Crassus?) and made his fortune in real estate by showing up as the house burned and collecting fees for putting out the fire. If the owner didn't pay up, he'd buy the burned land/structure off them at a greatly reduced price.

This happened with private fire brigades in early America as well (except for the property purchasing part, as far as I know). They were organized by insurance companies - you can still see some of the cast iron markers on homes and buildings in some cities, some of them are quite beautiful. They would only fight the fire if it was one of their clients - unless the homeowners paid them to put it out on the spot.
posted by arnicae at 7:19 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Read that as Onion County. Wish it were true.
posted by jmd82 at 7:21 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought that there were certain things that we decided, as a society, to do because it benefits us all to do them. I guess I thought wrong.

The logical conclusion is a toll booth at the edge of every driveway, I suppose, and another one at your neighbor's property line, and another one at his neighbors...

When Libertarianism devolves down to its final aim, there's no society left -- there's just a bunch of people competing with each other for resources, like savages. How the hell did we, as a gregarious species, that has (in the past anyway) gathered in large groups for the common good, get down this goddam rabbit hole?
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:26 PM on December 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


Delmoi, if they roll a single apparatus it cost roughly $500. For a fully involved structure fire, they have to dispatch a minimum of three vehicles in most jurisdictions I'm aware of in the United States. Actual fire suppression costs, if tabulated, would be significantly more costly (remember, you're paying for an extremely stringent level of training required nationally for municipal firefighters as well as equipment which is costly to purchase and keep in service as well as the firefighters' time on the hours that they aren't putting your house out - they are waiting, ready to go, at the station so that they can arrive within a few minutes of the 911 call).

They've been trained and are sitting around waiting for that anyway. Is the cost of fighting a particular fire that high? It's not like these particular firefighters were forced to choose between which fire they were going to put out and they went to the house that had paid its dues.
posted by Etrigan at 7:32 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty far away from being a libertarian. I don't believe that people should be able to opt out of such services. But the ending of the article struck me.

Bell and her boyfriend admitted they were aware [of the fee] but thought this would never happen to them.

For tonight, this hotel is home and they're happy be alive.


So, they knew their position and chose to put themselves in it. I wish the reporter had explicitly explored whether this was a real choice or whether it was a false choice such as choosing between paying the fee and paying for medication. However, the last line is revealing. They could afford to pay for a hotel room but not the fee? (Yes, I assume that they didn't get assistance for the hotel room. Again, I wish we had more information). If they could pay for a hotel room at, say a cheap rate of $40 a night. They could have easily paid the fee.
posted by oddman at 7:34 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I thought that there were certain things that we decided, as a society, to do because it benefits us all to do them. I guess I thought wrong.

You thought wrong. When we decide to do things as a society, it actually gets done by raising money to fund those things. In this rural part of this county, the folks there feel society should be something one can opt out of. Once again, folks opt out of the system, and get spanked good and hard for the effort. Like they knew they would. They weren't victims. They were gamblers.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:36 PM on December 8, 2011 [15 favorites]


"There's no way to go to every fire and keep up the manpower, the equipment, and just the funding for the fire department," Mayor David Crocker said.

Sure there is. It's called a "tax." The collective decision not to fund this through taxation is the real "poor judgement" here.
posted by tyllwin at 7:39 PM on December 8, 2011 [14 favorites]


They've been trained and are sitting around waiting for that anyway. Is the cost of fighting a particular fire that high?
The cost of fighting that particular fire is extremely high; it is the cost of many lost customers who realize that they don't have to pay in order to be protected from fires.
posted by Flunkie at 7:40 PM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Living outside of a fire protection district is fairly common here in rural British Columbia.

I'm a career paramedic and a volunteer firefighter in a town of about 10,000 in the mountains of BC and our fire service has clearly defined boundaries in which it will respond to fires. Responding to fires outside of this district is a rare event and can only occur with direct approval from the mayor of the town.

In fact, we had a car fire only several hundred metres outside of the city boundary at one point, and the mayor had to be called in order to gain approval.

This might seem a bit heartless, but what would town taxpayers say if all of our resources were tied up fighting a fire outside of the district, and a fire occurred within the district where individuals have actually paid for coverage (through their taxes of course)?

At least this department gives people outside of their protection district the *option* to pay for coverage. Out here, if you're outside of the city, you're mostly out of luck.

(Of course the ambulance service I work for responds anywhere in the province, ability to pay be damned. But then again, people pay for it from their provincial taxes...)
posted by brandonjadams at 7:41 PM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


I dunno, I don't care so much about punishing people for their own bad choices. I think it's OK if we decide that it's better to not leave a family homeless, despite their poor decision making skills. The cost of fighting the damned fire anyway is a lot lower than the eventual cost of dealing with a family rendered homeless.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:42 PM on December 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


The flat $75 fee is a massively regressive tax FWIW. It's a lot of money to a poor person and nothing to a rich person.
posted by unSane at 7:44 PM on December 8, 2011 [22 favorites]


Why is this "fire fee" not included in local property taxes? Seems pretty regressive.

And as someone who has had extended family hector me and my parents about the "lifestyle choices" we have "made" (AKA being poor), people talking about "choices" can take a long walk off a short dock.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:44 PM on December 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


Also, isn't this a failure of the free market? Surely by now some enterprising redneck should have set up his own pay-as-you-go fire department.
posted by unSane at 7:45 PM on December 8, 2011


sheesh..the last post on this was over 300 comments, we could have just imported those comments here, they are pretty much the same.

Is there a reason we're rehashing this?
posted by tomswift at 7:53 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


They've been trained and are sitting around waiting for that anyway. Is the cost of fighting a particular fire that high? It's not like these particular firefighters were forced to choose between which fire they were going to put out and they went to the house that had paid its dues.

If everyone takes this view, there is no incentive for anyone to pay the yearly $75. Which means the fire dept loses ongoing revenue. And may even cease to provide service at all as a result.

I dunno, I don't care so much about punishing people for their own bad choices.

Who is punishing these people? They took a gamble, thought they could get away without paying for service, and got exactly what they paid for. It sounds like these people really did make a choice. And they chose poorly.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:54 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


They've been trained and are sitting around waiting for that anyway. Is the cost of fighting a particular fire that high? It's not like these particular firefighters were forced to choose between which fire they were going to put out and they went to the house that had paid its dues.

Yes, who is paying for that training? I realize they are trained now, but who is paying for their training in 2012? What about their wages? Who is paying for them to sit around right now? Is it everyone else? Are they already experiencing reductions in staffing? Are they still utilizing a piece of apparatus that is unsafe or ineffective because they can't afford to replace it?
posted by arnicae at 7:54 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Something something, learn from the past, something something doomed something something.
posted by scalefree at 7:56 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


i wonder if they'd just stand there and watch if the family was trapped inside.

The last time this occurred, there was an interview with either the Chief or someone else speaking on behalf of the department, where they made clear that they have a policy of protecting life and rescuing anyone trapped in a structure regardless of whether or not the fee is paid -- but they will not do property protection for people who choose not to pay.

So in a sense, even those who freeload by refusing to pay the fee are getting some benefit -- the actual life protection service -- but they are not getting protection for their house once they've gotten out of it. That seems more than fair.

Also, I'm willing to bet that $75 per household per year isn't even close to the actual cost of fire protection service (i.e., I suspect the fire department has other sources of income, like fund raising and donations, that are being used to offset the membership fee). Just to compare, the budget for the (partially taxpayer funded, partially donation supported) fire and rescue department where I live is $175+ per resident per year, and that's in an area where there are huge economies of scale that don't really work in rural areas.

If their community decides via the democratic process that a person should be able to play the odds and go without fire protection, then the obvious result is going to be that some people are going to choose to play and lose. I think it's right that attention should be called to them when this happens, and either the system should be changed to make fire-protection mandatory, or they become a cautionary tale to encourage others from making the same dumb choice.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:56 PM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Is there a reason we're rehashing this?

because another house burned down while the fire department watched.
posted by nadawi at 7:58 PM on December 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


Why is this "fire fee" not included in local property taxes? Seems pretty regressive.

You know as well as I do, brothah. The neighboring larger, wealthier community has fire services. The town in question is too small to even cover the cost of volunteer services. Community leaders probably worked out a potential deal with BigTown concerning fire services.

LittleTown Selectman: We worked out a deal with the BigTown fire department. We can have full coverage, and we worked out the cost at $50 per property, per year. Naturally, it's going to have to be added to property taxes.

LittleTown Residents: TAXES? Fuck that! BigTown people think they're better than us with that fancy high school, fire station and full-time policeman. NO WAY!

LittleTown Selectman: Umm, right. Anyway, the other option was that individual homeowners could purchase fire protection for $75 per property.

LittleTown Residents: As if. Fuck them, and fuck you for even mentioning it. All right. Off to get plastered while smoking on my ancient, well-seasoned front porch.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:58 PM on December 8, 2011 [26 favorites]


They weren't victims. They were gamblers.

I'm not particularly happy that we've got a political system that allows for a net with big enough holes for people to gamble their way through them. Again -- it's a collective judgement issue. Some things are not best left to individual judgment, and collective will has to be exercised -- things like speed limits. We, as a society, appoint people to study an issue and educate themselves on it, then set a public policy enforceable by law, based on that resultant collective knowledge and collective will. That's what society is, I think. There are individuals who have very bad judgement about how fast a car can be driven, but we don't just let those people fucking opt out of the laws of the road, which are set for good reasons, by people who ostensibly know what the hell they're talking about.

Yet, I suppose.

Where's the political will to say "People individually will make bad judgements about the flammability of their houses, and we, collectively (through those crazy things called facts and knowledge) understand that it's imperative that all households have fire protection, so we will enforce a reasonable tax to provide that protection to everyone in this jurisdiction." Sure, poor people are poor, so we have this thing called a graduated taxation system, which goes light on those least able to pay. Then, do the next right thing, and work with other jurisdictions to insure that there are no gaps between them.

This isn't Somalia. Yet.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:00 PM on December 8, 2011 [15 favorites]


Why is this "fire fee" not included in local property taxes? Seems pretty regressive.

Is the objection to the fee that it's regressive? If so, rolling the fee into property taxes doesn't necessarily solve that problem.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:03 PM on December 8, 2011


Property taxes are levied based on property value. Those with higher-value properties pay more of the town's firefighting cost.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:09 PM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


The cost of fighting the damned fire anyway is a lot lower than the eventual cost of dealing with a family rendered homeless.

This is true, but the question is who pays that cost. If they put out the fire, the county that actually pays to have and maintain a fire department, pays for it. If they have to pay for it too many times they won't have a fire department.
The part of this I really don't get is how can you afford to own a home and not be able to come up with $75? If it's a rental, and the landlord hasn't paid it, then the tenants are screwed but they aren't out the price of a house. As someone who has almost been able to afford a condo, I can say that the thing that stopped me was that it would put me too close to being just about broke by the end of the month, every month. Which meant if anything caused me even a small financial hiccup I would have been out on my ass.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:13 PM on December 8, 2011


Some things are not best left to individual judgment,

Well, there's the problem right there, isn't it? Your idea of what things are best not left to individual judgment, and my idea of what those things should be, are different.

In the end, what you're saying is, I know how to spend your money better than you do. And that may or may not be true, but I hope you can see that I might reasonably disagree, no matter how much smarter you are than I.

(Not to pick on you, personally, DR. But anybody who's saying "roll it into taxes" is implicitly saying "because the people who spend those taxes will do it better than you will." And that's demonstrably not true in many, many cases, although it might be true in this particular case, assuming that the politicos would actually spend the tax money to get fire protection, instead of a new addition to the football stadium or something.)
posted by spacewrench at 8:15 PM on December 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Consider that the cost this family is going be to society-at-large trough government assistance or private charity is now going to be many times greater then the $75 dollars annually. It kind of goes both ways eh? As a society parts of the country are not willing to pay communally for fire-fighting services, but will have to pay communally to deal with the aftermath of lack of protection for some.

Short term blinders thinking on all levels.
posted by edgeways at 8:15 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mayor Curley you hit it on the head. Can't speak in this specific instance, but I know feelings like that run deep sometimes around this area.
posted by deezil at 8:15 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Most comments I've read about this incident seem to blame either the residents (for refusing to pay for crucial fire protection services) or the city (for refusing to serve people who don't pay for the services). I think the blame should go to the county. Even after a notable incident a year ago, the county has still decided that its residents should not be entitled to fire service. That's nuts.
posted by grouse at 8:20 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Especially right now, doc, there are a LOOOOOT of people out there who bought houses at times when they were doing just fine and buying modest homes with nothing particularly fancy about them that were well within their means... and something's changed in the meantime to make that no longer ture.

Spacewrench, fire protection is almost the *definition* of the sort of thing government does better than private citizens. Fire protection is one of the sorts of things that they figured out taxes were good for after they decided they were bad for paying kings. See also: Policemen, roads, sewers. There are just some things that benefit everybody and so everybody, as a collective, needs to foot the bill.

You know what would happen if we all had to pay this fee individually instead of having it rolled into taxes? Every few times a fire hit a poor neighborhood, it wouldn't burn down some poor bastard's house, it'd burn down half a city. Including, by the time it'd gotten around to the neighborhoods where people could afford to pay the fees, lots of those houses, too, because there wouldn't be enough fire trucks left to fight everywhere it'd spread.
posted by gracedissolved at 8:22 PM on December 8, 2011 [13 favorites]


It's not the county (see the pdf, which zenon found in last year's post), it's the residents of the county. They don't want to pay the taxes, they don't want to pay subscriptions, and, when some municipalities put out their fires anyway, they don't pay for the service received. The county is fully aware of the need for fire services.
posted by 6550 at 8:25 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is the new America. That 75.00 dollars might as well be 7,500 to the working poor. It's something you can't afford - and you pray to god that something doesn't happen.

To see firefighters standing across the street - while your life burns before you - it is unamerican and wrong on so many levels. The rest of the world reads stories like this and are glad that they do not live here. Can you imagine this happening in Sweden? The entire community would be there to help put out the fire - and then help the family that was displaced. Here - we say, too fucking bad. Pay the bill next time. That's just bullshit on so many levels.

We need to start taking care of our own. From veterans, to seniors, to the common man. Watching a persons house burn - and doing nothing - would get you driven out of the community in the America of old. What the fuck does it take to realize that we have to take care of each other. We are Americans. This is unacceptable.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 8:29 PM on December 8, 2011 [16 favorites]


The flat $75 fee is a massively regressive tax FWIW. It's a lot of money to a poor person and nothing to a rich person.

It's less than 21¢ per day. About the price of a single cigarette.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:30 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I thought that there were certain things that we decided, as a society, to do because it benefits us all to do them.

Things cost money. The fire department is from another jurisdiction; services not supported by taxes have to be paid for one way or another.
posted by spaltavian at 8:30 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Once 100% of our taxes go to pay for the interest on bonds, fees will be required to receive any continuing governmental services.

Similarly in commerce, every single step through the chain of middlemen will be a fee based service, so that we can continue to receive our advertisement laden content.
posted by nervousfritz at 8:30 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The entire community would be there to help put out the fire - and then help the family that was displaced.

That is true in rural Ontario where I live, too (volunteer fire department). And the firefighters who stood by should probably not try going for a beer anywhere anytime soon either.
posted by unSane at 8:32 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is there a reason we're rehashing this?

The breakdown of the social contract in America is an issue of incredible importance to many of us and is immensely relevant to the current political debate in this country. This tragic story poignantly reinforces the side upon which I come down.

Taxes are good things. Fuck the Republicans, fuck the libertarians who say otherwise.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:33 PM on December 8, 2011 [23 favorites]


It's less than 21¢ per day. About the price of a single cigarette.

Your point is that it's not regressive, or that $75 is not a lot of money when you don't have any?
posted by unSane at 8:34 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The flat $75 fee is a massively regressive tax FWIW. It's a lot of money to a poor person and nothing to a rich person.

It's less than 21¢ per day. About the price of a single cigarette.


Or 9 hours of work at 8 bucks an hour. You might be surprised at the answer if you ask some poor people whether they can afford that.
posted by facetious at 8:34 PM on December 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


The part of this I really don't get is how can you afford to own a home and not be able to come up with $75? If it's a rental, and the landlord hasn't paid it, then the tenants are screwed but they aren't out the price of a house.

I too find it really, really hard to believe that people who can afford a house can't pay $75 a year for fire department fees. User fees like that, as well as home insurance, need to be budgeted for. If it's a choice between cable TV and that $75, you cancel your cable. And if you can't afford them (i.e., you're having to choose between the fire department user fees and medication or food) then you need to not buy the house or sell it or rent out a room in it if you already own it, because there's no way you'll be able to pay for say, an emergency plumbing bill or a new furnace if your current one dies.
posted by orange swan at 8:37 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


it's not like the fire bill is the only thing. it's not fire or food. it's all the bills all the payments all the places their paychecks are spread. maybe they could afford everything at one point and then someone got sick. maybe someone died. maybe someone got laid off. maybe they're bad at budgeting their money. this is really more of a reason to have fire taken care of through taxes and not separate payments that give uneven coverage of services.

or sell it
because this is totally easy to do right now. you might as well offer someone some cake.
posted by nadawi at 8:43 PM on December 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


The part of this I really don't get is how can you afford to own a home and not be able to come up with $75?

If you read the post, you'll note that it was a trailer - in a trailer park. I do believe this is the place where the residents have scads of disposable income. 75.00 dollars to a poor family is a lot of money.

I'm sure renting out a room in a trailer would solve all of your financial woes.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 8:44 PM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


The part of this I really don't get is how can you afford to own a home and not be able to come up with $75?
You can buy a house in the South Fulton area of Tennessee for $11,900. To the owner of that house, $75 is a full month's mortgage payment, and probably not a triviality.
posted by Flunkie at 8:44 PM on December 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


That 75.00 dollars might as well be 7,500 to the working poor.

Oh FFS. No, it's not a lot of money even if you're poor. That is, in fact, a manageable challenge. Yes, I have extensive experience of having no money whatsoever and find the idea that putting together $1.50 a week is too hard for a poor person rather insulting.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:47 PM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Can we please stop pretending that money is the only thing we're not allowed to compromise on? There are limits to every single Constitutional amendment for very sane reasons. If you want to live in a society where people share risks and rewards, you are giving up the right to earn a limitless amount of money, and the right to choose how to spend all of it. That's the trade off, and it has been for a long time.
posted by deanklear at 8:48 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh FFS. No, it's not a lot of money even if you're poor.

You live in San Francisco. What portion of your rent/mortgage is 75.00?
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 8:51 PM on December 8, 2011


Hey 6550, all we need to do is page KathrynT and we'll be all set for another round.

Really the only remarkable aspect of this is that the Obion County still hasn't gotten passed the proposal stage for putting together a fire protection plan, which they first starting talking about back in 2008.
posted by zenon at 8:52 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


@kdar: "Fire fees"? Are those like the "sidewalk fees" I pay to have sidewalks in my neighborhood?
You mean "taxes?"


One of the differences between a fee and a tax is that a tax has to be levied through a whole process that requires voter input and/or approval at various steps in the process, particularly if the taxes will be significantly increased, and generally require votes by the legislative body responsible for taxing.

A fee can simply be set by anyone with authority (the health department may have authority to set their own fee for birth certificate copies, for example), without public input or oversight.

Our city council, for example, keeps spending money on stupid shit and cutting police, fire, and other essential services. They could no longer pay for garbage collection, even though that's included in our municipal property taxes. So they put a $6/month garbage fee in place for every property in the city, to make up the shortfall. It's not apportioned by value the way property taxes are (which is regressive, yes), and it wasn't voted on and it didn't require a "truth in taxation" notice or a levy hearing or any of the other hoops that make sure taxes are open and public in my state. The city council just decided, $6/month fee. It allowed them to artificially shield their bad budgetary choices that led to the garbage fee in the first place, and it costs more to collect than property taxes, since it's collected separately, 12 times a year, instead of rolled into the whole city/county/school/park collection twice a year. It also allows them to say they held the line on property taxes and "didn't raise taxes." When in fact they raised my taxes $72/year, which is a huge amount ... but it's a FEE.

Now we have a brand-new METERED FEE for natural gas use, which is a TAX, but they're calling it a fee. So it's collected separately AGAIN, and the fee is collected against even non-profits and other government bodies! So the city council said, "Look, we held the line on property taxes! Yay us! Other governmental bodies should be as diligent in protecting the taxpayer and watching their budgets*" while simultaneously forcing every other governmental body in the area to raise THEIR property tax levy to cover the metered fee!

*I am not even kidding. I almost threw my remote through my TV when I watched the press conference.

So, yeah, there's a difference between a fee and a tax. Fees collected for something only SOME people do that actually cost the government money (like get a birth certificate copy) are fine, but fees collected from every household? That's just weasel words.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:54 PM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh FFS. No, it's not a lot of money even if you're poor. That is, in fact, a manageable challenge. Yes, I have extensive experience of having no money whatsoever and find the idea that putting together $1.50 a week is too hard for a poor person rather insulting.

You can amortize the amount all you like, it doesn't lessen the fact that $75 at one time is a lot to someone that's poor. Saying it's $1.50 a week doesn't make it magically easier to do.
posted by ndfine at 8:54 PM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is the second time this has happened huh. I'm not going to debate the morality of letting a house burn down because they didn't pay up, because it is shitty. Maybe the owner did a cost benefit analysis and decided it wasn't worth it to save the house, maybe he spent the money on beer, who cares put that shit out so it doesn't spread.

There are really people who will say fuck em let it burn to save a couple bucks on their taxes?

We learned that some shit is a public good a long time ago, now people want to cut funding for volcano warning, as if the free market is going to swoop in and provide volcano alert services.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:54 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did the building that burned down have a fire insurance mark? I recall a scene from The Gangs of New York, I think, where the fire department arrived at a burning building and just watched it burn because the owner hadn't paid his insurance. I think I even recall that they actively prevented others from trying to put the fire out. Of course, we're not living in the 1860's, but it's an interesting anecdote.
posted by crunchland at 8:55 PM on December 8, 2011


The problem here is not that the fire department wants $75/house for fire service or that this family didn't pay, the problem is that they had the option not to pay. In my community, and most of our communities I bet, part of the social contract is that in exchange for getting to own property, you pay people to keep the whole city from going up in flames. Organized taxpayer-financed fire services were formed throughout the world rather quickly, because they work darn well compared to any system that proceeded them. This is basic Civilization 101 stuff folks (ok, maybe Sim City): don't let all your shit burn down.

Really, for $75/year (maybe even less if it were mandatory for the whole county), you get a crew of trained professionals who will answer the phone 24/7, race to your door as fast as possible, risk their lives if needed to save you and your loved ones, give you first aid and rush you to the hospital if needed, use expensive engines, trucks, and other equipment to extinguish the fire, search the house to ensure that there aren't any hidden flames ready to reignite the building, and secure gas lines, electrical panels, and other dangerous equipment before leaving. In some forested areas, they will even come in helicopters or drop fire retardant from jumbo-jets. All this is a pretty damn awesome service to get at any price, and it turns out that there's a lot of fine folks who are gladly willing to offer it in exchange for what is generally a decent middle-class salary (or even as volunteers). Pretty cool, huh?

We live in a phenomenally advanced civilization in one of the wealthiest nations on earth, and we're absolutely frickin' lucky to have this kind of service available. As a society, we can absolutely afford to provide fire protection to one another. If it turns out that some members of the community cannot afford it, we can use one of many time-tested mechanisms to share the cost progressively. There are plenty of hard problems we should be focusing on. This particular problem is as solved as it has ever been in history, and we should be so lucky that we can be solving new and bigger problems together because we've all got this firefighting thing covered. Or not...
posted by zachlipton at 8:59 PM on December 8, 2011 [20 favorites]


Oh, it was a trailer. Yes, that puts a different spin on things. If you can only afford a trailer, or barely afford one, you really might not have that $75.
posted by orange swan at 9:02 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


zachlipton's got it exactly right. this is not welfare we're arguing about here. this is having a fire department. there are no good arguments for not having a fire department that serves everyone. c'mon. be serious.
posted by facetious at 9:04 PM on December 8, 2011


I live here now, and I 'be been utterly broke here too. And as an alien, I'm not eligible for welfare of any kind whatsoever, so I learned how to eat on $15 a week the hard way. It's $75 once a year, not monthly or weekly. Like I said, the same price as one single cigarette per day. One extra day of work at minimum wage a year vs. having to watch my house burn down? Yeah, that actually sounds like a good deal. I'm much more anxious that people pay taxes to provide health care, which is nothing like as manageable or predictable an expense if you're poor.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:07 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is my father's home county. He is thoroughly embarrassed and enraged, especially as his father was very active in Union City's politics throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 9:07 PM on December 8, 2011


I feel for the people who attempt to justify this travesty. They have never witnessed a barn raising. They have not experienced community. This is what America is all about.

This indifference to our citizens is an abomination.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 9:15 PM on December 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


I learned how to eat on $15 a week the hard way....Like I said, the same price as one single cigarette per day.

Like you said, 5 weeks of food money.
posted by facetious at 9:21 PM on December 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


I hope all the renter here have renter's insurance. Probably less than $75 too!
posted by smackfu at 9:24 PM on December 8, 2011


I was visiting my folks in TN last summer and my brother-in-law's tractor spun out a spark and the hayfield started to go up in flames. Within fifteen minutes there were ten to fifteen people there who were NOT fire department, because they'd seen the smoke from the road. The fire department came too. In fact, two fire departments came. But my point is, so did real people just out of the goodness of their hearts. So all y'all bitching about the petty, ignorant rednecks in TN can (and I say this with the best will...Kathryn I've met you and you seemed nice), as I was saying, can suck it. This is why I hate Seattle, because everyone out here seems to think Southerners are some wretched lowerclass. Some are good, some are bad. We're just folks.

That said, let me offer you some perspective.

My brother-in-law makes upwards of 600,000 a year, when he's not farming. He owns shittons of land. I don't even know how much. Their house is one of the nicest in the county. Now class and politics aside, my bro-in-law is a nice dude. I respect him because no matter how rude I've been to him about politics, and no matter what my financial situation he's always treated me with respect and his home has always been open to me. But here are the facts of the matter. For him a $75 fee would be nothing. Nothing at all. But to my parents (separated) who also own homes in the area, that cost would be prohibitive. Yes, they own homes. They pay their insurance. They pay their taxes. But they're not rich. My father's mouth is filled with broken teeth because he can't afford to get them fixed. They're both retired, and on medicare. They worked hard all their lives, my mother as a teacher and then a nurse, my dad as a machinest and then a contracter. As someone pointed out upthread owning a house in rural or ruralish TN is surprisingly cheap, and decent rental housing can be almost as hard to find as it is in Seattle. The difference is that houses are cheaper there. I'm seeing some breaks in reality coming from people who I suspect have never done more than drive through rural areas.

Anyway, the real point I'm making is that a flat fee is not proportional and it is not okay. And I'm also telling you that there, as here, the wealthiest people are the ones who get elected and drive politics. Yes, it's horribly shortsighted of people not to have passed taxes. But unless you have an intimate knowledge of the area, please don't sneer at the yokels.

I also agree with the poster who said the firefighters better not be having a beer locally any time soon. I guarantee you people are pissed off about it.

And for people weirded out about how the fires start: it's not uncommon to burn garbage on your property if you're a ways out of town, and it happens so frequently that people forget how dangerous it is, pop back in to answer the phone, feed the dog, whatever, and boom, it starts. Hell, I've had a fire start in my oven, we're talking flames licking up, and I was five feet away. I was making toast and got really into something else and apparently my sense of smell goes when I'm concentrating.

Where I grew up in TN, you'd help your worst enemy put out a house fire. You'd do it for the sick and depraved and the criminal. Because that's what you do. I don't know what went wrong here. I don't know the parties involved. But a flat fee is not a tax and it's not fair and it's not okay. And the politician prey on the fears of the weak and uneducated to get them to vote in the interests of the wealthy.
posted by thelastcamel at 9:25 PM on December 8, 2011 [20 favorites]


You can amortize the amount all you like, it doesn't lessen the fact that $75 at one time is a lot to someone that's poor. Saying it's $1.50 a week doesn't make it magically easier to do.

Personally I've found that having very simple goals like that does in fact make them much simpler and more satisfying to fulfil. Paying a bill like that makes me feel way better than someone telling me that being poor means I'm doomed and helpless. Paying a small manageable bill like this, for something worthwhile like fire protection, is something empowering. Handling small expenses like this pays off in increased confidence and agency for the whole year following, and that helps with bigger challenges.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:26 PM on December 8, 2011


Crap. Rereading my post I realized I spelled both machinist and contractor wrong. Oh well, can't win 'em all.
posted by thelastcamel at 9:28 PM on December 8, 2011


If only all the poor people were like you, anigbrowl. Wouldn't life be easy?
posted by unSane at 9:29 PM on December 8, 2011 [14 favorites]


There are really people who will say fuck em let it burn to save a couple bucks on their taxes?

Yeah, americans.

In all my travels I've never met people who spend as much time complaining about how poor they are as the Americans and the British.
posted by fshgrl at 9:30 PM on December 8, 2011


What happens when the fire department's records have a mistake, and they let your house burn down even though you paid the $75? That alone should tell you how completely fucked this is.
posted by 0xFCAF at 9:33 PM on December 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


The idea that it has to be an either/or argument, to me, is just specious, bad and irritatingly reductive, all rolled into one, in addition to victim-blaming and also a lot of other bad adjectives that I'm just too lazy to think of now, but certainly, laziness figures into it.

As a society, it sickens me that there are members thereof that say "well, it's just $1.50 a week, and I'm poor, and you know, so therefore it's doable, so it's the fire victim's fault!".

Is that really where we are? There has to be a decision along the likes of "I dunno - I can either eat this week, which is immediate, or I can think of the future and pay $75, in the hopes that when my house burns down in the future, or not, I'll be covered"? Wow.

I mean, seriously, holy shit.
posted by jivadravya at 9:41 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Personally I've found that having very simple goals like that does in fact make them much simpler and more satisfying to fulfill.

You live in San Francisco - what do you think would happen if the SF Fire Department did nothing - and just watched as a house burned in The Castro. I have the feeling there might be a march or two down Market Street.

We are Americans. Start taking care of each other. Discrimination of status - or wealth - does not allow us to fall into a policy of "have and have not".

These people livd in a trailer park. They were second class citizens - in the eyes of many.

Poverty is not a crime. Not allowing basic human services - like fire protection - is, and should be a crime. This is not American. We should take care of each other. We succeed or fail as one.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 9:42 PM on December 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Oh this is funny. And by funny, I mean tragic. Everyone here seems to understand that it makes all the sense in the world to have fire protection rolled into taxes and not an opt-out. Why is it then, that many don't seem to understand that it's exactly the same with health care? Why is it that you don't support single payer then? Why should people be able to opt out or not afford it at all? Isn't the ultimate cost much higher that way, and we get less for it... exactly as happens here with health care costs in this country? Jeez, it would seem a no-brainer. But somehow the propaganda from the right is so effective that people don't see that the two situations, fire protection and health care are equivalent from a social benefit and tax policy point of view.

And that brings us to the sad fate of health care here. Foreigners - and many Americans - simply cannot understand why huge, huge numbers of voters in this country are adamantly opposed to a rational solution, like single payer. Well, wonder no more. Just look at the mentality that allows what happened in the FPP to exist. If we can't get consensus on a freakin' fire protection with all the simplicity of choices here, how ever are we going to get people to vote for a rational health care policy with all the complexity involved?

That's why it's hard to be optimistic about politics in this country.
posted by VikingSword at 9:44 PM on December 8, 2011 [14 favorites]


what do you think would happen if the SF Fire Department did nothing - and just watched as a house burned in The Castro

The whole place would burn to the ground which is why fire departments aren't optional in cities.

The only person I feel really bad for is the mayor. He's being made to look like an asshole for something that is entirely out of his control. (Even if he is an asshole in real life). The firefighters can say they were following orders, the homeowners can cry to the media, the locals get to not pay taxes like they want and the press can write thundering editorials but the mayor just looks like an ass. What's he supposed to do with a county full of people who refuse to pay for fire protection? Pay for it himself?
posted by fshgrl at 9:50 PM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


I just did the math for a few of the communities I have lived in, and all of them came to the same numbers as Kadin2048, about $175/year/resident for the fire budget. This is for rural and urban areas, it seems to be fairly consistent. I for one, had no idea that the fire budgets were so high, and I don't know what the city in this case could have done. Clearly, they are already subsidizing the $75 rate heavily.

The desire to avoid taxes or fees sometimes seems baffling, but here I sit without earthquake or tsunami insurance even though I can afford it without any great sacrifice.
posted by roquetuen at 10:04 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


ROU_Xenophobe wrote: I imagine they understand that they would be unlikely to actually get paid.

Yes, that's what happened before they implemented the new policy of not putting out fires for people who don't subscribe. That said, the direct cost of putting out any given fire is pretty low (not much more than going out there in the first place, although the risk to life is higher than just standing there) and they could just sell the debt off to some debt collecting scum.

The last guy had previously had a fire put out by the city department and stiffed them for the bill shortly before the new policy was implemented. He specifically said he could afford it, but chose not to pay it because he didn't think he'd have another fire.

tyllwin wrote: "There's no way to go to every fire and keep up the manpower, the equipment, and just the funding for the fire department," Mayor David Crocker said.

Sure there is. It's called a "tax." The collective decision not to fund this through taxation is the real "poor judgement" here


The city cannot levy a tax outside its borders.

Devils Rancher wrote: I'm not particularly happy that we've got a political system that allows for a net with big enough holes for people to gamble their way through them. Again -- it's a collective judgement issue.

I don't think we should force the social safety net on people who don't want it. Should we really require that people take Medicare or Social Security benefits if they don't want them? If people want to fall through, that's their business. It is a free country. I wouldn't make that choice, but part of freedom is letting other people fuck themselves over if they really insist.

Bighappyfunhouse wrote: Oh FFS. No, it's not a lot of money even if you're poor.

You live in San Francisco. What portion of your rent/mortgage is 75.00


In my case, it was half. 21 cents a day would have made fuck all difference to my life, and I made less than $400 a month at the time.

You'll note that nobody is arguing that this is a great situation. This is what happens when people refuse to be taxed enough to pay for essential services. It is their county, who the fuck am I to tell them they have to have a fire department? A lot of places don't. You can't force taxes on a population when a majority do not want them.

People should be able to elect the government they want, so long as it isn't so fucktarded as to contravene international law.
posted by wierdo at 10:12 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


what do you think would happen if the SF Fire Department did nothing

I'd then think that they were being negligent in their jobs. Since the SF Fire Department is obligated to provide fire service to the City and County of San Francisco. Which is funded by the taxes paid by residents of SF.

This isn't what's happening in this area. For some peculiar reason, a tax has not been levied to pay for the fire protection of this area. I'm as bleeding heart as they come, but I also know that services have to be paid for somehow. And that's through taxes. If these people want to live with the option of not paying for basic social services, then they have to live with the consequences of not paying for it. Because it's just batshit crazy that they even have the option.
posted by hwyengr at 10:15 PM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's just $750 per decade. Why not pay $1500 when you have a kid and then you're set until the kid reaches majority? There's usually a big bill already when there's a new baby, so it's not that much extra to tack on.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 10:29 PM on December 8, 2011


Good on the firefighters.

If country John Galt doesn't want to pay taxes or fees for his public services, he's welcome to build a new home for himself.
posted by bardic at 10:37 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wait... were these people actually unable to afford the $75 per year? As far as I can tell, that wasn't the case. It wasn't the case last time, either.

There's no indication that these folks are deserving of a whole lot of sympathy. Nor the community that resulted in this policy. It appears this is the community they want, and likely most people there accept and play by the rules. They want a community where they can have their little line item veto of the services they want. This is what they get, for better or worse. Maybe these incidences will change minds about the policy. Or maybe not, because the policy seems to work exactly as it's supposed to.

Everyone here seems to understand that it makes all the sense in the world to have fire protection rolled into taxes and not an opt-out.

I think it makes sense, but probably not for reasons others might think: I simply prefer to consolidate my payments rather than make nickel and dime payments for this and that. However, having fire protection rolled into taxes isn't necessarily preferable, unless it's involuntary.

Still, for the folks arguing that $75 per year is too big a burden for the poor, then it's still too big a burden even if it's piggybacked on property taxes.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:40 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Still, for the folks arguing that $75 per year is too big a burden for the poor, then it's still too big a burden even if it's piggybacked on property taxes.

If every landowner in the county has to pay a property tax, it will vary by the value of the property. It will be less than $75 per plot.
posted by grouse at 10:49 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's no indication that these folks are deserving of a whole lot of sympathy.

Aside from, you know, their goddamn house burning down while the fire department watched. Sweet butter-side-down CHRIST there are some unempathetic motherfucks floating around in this thread.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:50 PM on December 8, 2011 [15 favorites]


It doesn't matter what people think here. Maybe ease off the saddle there.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:56 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was visiting my folks in TN last summer and my brother-in-law's tractor spun out a spark and the hayfield started to go up in flames. Within fifteen minutes there were ten to fifteen people there who were NOT fire department, because they'd seen the smoke from the road.

It's too bad the caring county neighbors didn't show up in this case. Perhaps this would be a story of the strength of rural communities rather than a bitchfest that the nearest outpost of city slickers didn't come to the rescue.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:09 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


That trailer was done for the moment the fire broke out. And yes, it sucks that it happened. Hopefully they'll convince their fellow residents to organize a fire department, like the city did. The city who is kind enough to let people buy in, even though they are under no obligation to do so, and gets an endless amount of shit on the Internet for their trouble of being kind enough to even respond at all, in case it gets out of control or someone is trapped. They're under no obligation to do so, mind you.

I think it would be fantastic if the county residents did something about their problem, it's not as if it would be terribly hard or terribly expensive, but they have chosen not to at every turn.
posted by wierdo at 11:12 PM on December 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


If every landowner in the county has to pay a property tax, it will vary by the value of the property. It will be less than $75 per plot.

You might think so. Unless it's levied as a itemized fee per household, kind of like it currently is. The big objection here doesn't seem to be the size of the fee (which in fact looks low compared to what others here have mentioned). But rather that the fee isn't compulsory. Perhaps the fee could be smaller if everyone, being forced to contribute, actually paid into the fund. Though it might not be a huge difference if there were few who actually refused/couldn't pay.

And all this presumes the people of the county actually dislike the policy. My guess is that most people are, at least up to now, at peace with it.

Aside from, you know, their goddamn house burning down while the fire department watched. Sweet butter-side-down CHRIST there are some unempathetic motherfucks floating around in this thread.

Why am I supposed to feel pity for them when they couldn't be motivated enough to pay the yearly fee themselves? So far, there's not much indication that the fee was beyond their ability. It simply wasn't a priority for them. I'm supposed to care more about the well being of their property than they were able to muster for themselves?
posted by 2N2222 at 11:18 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


At this point the best thing for the city would be to tell the county to form its own fire service and stop accepting any calls from outside city limits.

That way the city doesn't have to roll trucks for this sort of thing. It was a nice gesture to offer fire coverage to people who wanted it, but that generosity is biting them in the ass big time.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:25 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why am I supposed to feel pity for them when they couldn't be motivated enough to pay the yearly fee themselves?

Because having your house burn down sucks?

You can have compassion for these folks even while disagreeing with their decision.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:27 PM on December 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


facetious: this is not welfare we're arguing about here. this is having a fire department.

This is absolutely welfare. Look up the word "welfare": you'll find that it means a whole lot more than, say, food stamps and unemployment pay.

The problem here is that people think of welfare as "hand-outs to poor people". That's not what welfare is. Welfare is all the stuff we do so that everyone can have a better life: fire departments and all. Welfare is not a bad word.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:16 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, what if the city FD responds to a fire in the country, and another breaks out in the city where, ya know, the people who actually fund the FD live.

That'd be quite a lawsuit.

No sympathy, sorry. The people didn't die. They chose to own a home and not pay for fire protection.

Maybe they should have just rented instead?
posted by bardic at 12:24 AM on December 9, 2011


Holy moly, what a show of heartlessness.

Metafilter, I don't think I like you anymore.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:36 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like, really.

My house burned down in when I was 13. We had no insurance. We were coming out of a winter with no work where we had literally no money, so if there had been a fire fee, we could not have fucking paid it.

We lived in the burned-out house over the summer, rebuilt, but didn't get the front door in until late November.

Don't you people fucking dare criticize these people. $75 is a lot of money when you don't have it. You are in no position to talk.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:54 AM on December 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


Why am I supposed to feel pity for them when they couldn't be motivated enough to pay the yearly fee themselves?

I don't really feel pity for them. I feel something between pity and anger at our collective society which is capable of sending humans to live in outer space, people and robots to the deepest point in the ocean, and pack billions of transistors onto a tiny wafer of silicon, but cannot manage to ensure that someone sprays water in the general direction of a guy's perfectly accessible burning home.
posted by zachlipton at 1:01 AM on December 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Libertarianism: the canary in the coalmine of social and cultural collapse.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:46 AM on December 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is phenomenally stupid from a fire fighting perspective. Fire spreads until it runs out of fuel or oxygen. The longer you let it burn, the bigger it will get. The bigger the fire, the harder it is to put out and the more lives and property are put at risk. The goal of modern fire fighting is to respond to the fire as quickly as possibly and put it out while it is as small as possible. The idea that you could contain the fire to the property of some one who didn't pay a fee is naive. A drought and/or high winds (or a million other unforeseen things) can quickly make a fire on a non-paying property into everyone's problem. That's why fire protection is a social service in most places. This will stop the first time the fire chief has to explain that he could have stopped the fire in the neighbor's kitchen, "But they didn't pay their fee and, well, golly, it just got out of control. Sorry about your house, but I guess you can have your $75 back."
posted by chrisulonic at 3:26 AM on December 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


(For a nerd) I didn't read many comic books as a kid. I did however read Punisher 2099. The first scene of the first issue shows a person getting chased down and having his organs stolen. The cops witness it, but when they see that he hasn't paid his 'police fees' (or whatever they're called) they laugh and walk away.

I'm not about to tell you that Punisher 2099 is a great series, but that scene probably had more influence on my view of the privatization of basic social services than anything else growing up. As far as I'm concerned this is very high up on the dystopian future checklist.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 5:21 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


From the article: "Bell and her boyfriend admitted they were aware but thought this would never happen to them."

Nothing in there about them being unable to afford it.

(I didn't have condo/renter's insurance until I was forced to, and I can afford the $100 a year it costs. I chose not to out of laziness and cheapness.)

It is a sub-optimal situation, no doubt. However, we know that the firefighters WILL protect life if necessary. All that's left is property, and if protecting their property isn't worth the $75 a year to the owners, then why should the firefighters care? I know that's anti-friendly, but to look at it from the other perspective, why would I, the firefighter, theoretically put my LIFE on the line to protect the property of someone unwilling to pay a token amount for my services?

I wonder if there is a moment where the firefighters arrive and say "you didn't pay, we will put out the fire if you promise to pay"? When the owner of the trailer park says "I'll pay it, just put it out?" When the gathered onlookers stop tsk-tsking long enough to pass the hat and collect the $75 so the firefighters can start to work?

This is a failure of community, not just the mean firemen or the mean county for not forcing them to pay. Nobody seems to care enough to bother changing the status quo.

(And, as someone else mentioned, being a rural area, chances are pretty good that by the time the trucks arrive, paid up or not, the structure is too far gone to be helped by putting the fire out. I wonder if the firemen would start working if the fire started to risk jumping to another property, whether IT was paid up or not? I bet they would.)
posted by gjc at 5:43 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


anigbrowl, you're both paternalistic and condescending

I disagree. When I was young, my family was also very poor (on welfare), but I didn't suffer as much as other kids on welfare because my mom had those same skills for planning as anigbrowl is talking about. If she had to pay something like a $75 fee/year, she would have put away $1.50 per week to save it up. This is also how she paid for Christmas and swimming lessons and even summer camp for a couple of years (though maybe we had a grant for that).

These kind of planning and budgeting skills are good for everyone to have, but they are essential for the poor. Rather than just dismissing anigbrowl's point as paternalistic, we should be talking about how we can teach all people (including the poor) how to do this kind of planning out their expenses and to save against emergencies. I would do it in grade school and highschool in math classes and spreadsheet classes (they totally need those, too). Weirdly, this kind of "future-orientation" is much supposed to more common the higher the social class - and I have to wonder how the relationship goes. Does being poorer making thinking about the future more depressing and so people avoid doing it? or does not thinking about and planning for the future make people more likely to be poor? Or maybe there is a bit of both (as my anecdata would suggest).

that said, I do think that fire service should be just paid for out of taxes. but I'm also a socialist and think that healthcare, schools, swimming pools, ice rinks, playgrounds and lots and lots of things should be paid for out of progressive taxes. But I'm also a realist and I know that the poor will always be among us, and I'm interested in making their lives better rather than just feeling sorry for them.
posted by jb at 5:44 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


oh, and public transit too. I would make that free, just like driving on roads is free.
posted by jb at 5:45 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


He say to tell you wood and hay kin burn.
posted by exlotuseater at 5:46 AM on December 9, 2011


I'm not about to tell you that Punisher 2099 is a great series, but that scene probably had more influence on my view of the privatization of basic social services than anything else growing up. As far as I'm concerned this is very high up on the dystopian future checklist.

That's a good point, and I agree. I wonder, where does it start? For every greedy city manager who starts to outsource these services, there are voters who let them get away with it.
posted by gjc at 5:46 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Running even a small fire department is not cheap. The equipment is ridiculously expensive and requires repair and replacement on a regular basis (sometimes just to meet state and federal regulations). Spreading the cost across all taxpayers is really the only way to make fire and other emergency services available to everyone.

But Olbion County and other municipal governments have decided that fire services aren't going to automatically available to everyone. Welcome to the Tea Party Future.
posted by tommasz at 5:54 AM on December 9, 2011


So to summarize:

1) MeFi users tend to think fire departments should be part of taxes.
2) The residents of the county in question don't agree.
3) So they should be forced somehow for their own good.

Now who's being paternalistic?
posted by smackfu at 5:58 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


To see firefighters standing across the street - while your life burns before you - it is unamerican and wrong on so many levels. The rest of the world reads stories like this and are glad that they do not live here. Can you imagine this happening in Sweden? The entire community would be there to help put out the fire - and then help the family that was displaced. Here - we say, too fucking bad. Pay the bill next time. That's just bullshit on so many levels.

We need to start taking care of our own. From veterans, to seniors, to the common man. Watching a persons house burn - and doing nothing - would get you driven out of the community in the America of old. What the fuck does it take to realize that we have to take care of each other. We are Americans. This is unacceptable.


I don't know why you are tarring all of America with this local inanity. This is a consequence of how they have decided to apportion services and fees/taxes between jurisdictions (the city has the fire department but can't assess taxes in the county, and the county government has chosen to make this an individual decision); most of the rest of the US has chosen to do this in different ways that provides fire protection coverage in better ways. Where I live fire protection is by district; some of those districts are professional and some are volunteer, but all of them have the ability to assess residents of their district (with district boundaries crossing between city and county) for the cost of fire protection. In other places, the county would simply sign an agreement with the city to pay $X for fire protection and add that as a fee or tax (with the important distinction between the two that EyebrowsMcG mentioned above) to the county residents. And in yet other places areas within the county might choose to organize and pay for volunteer fire departments with mutual aid agreements for full coverage.

In other words, this is an odd local thing that comes out of some combination of state law, local custom, the intersection of local wealth and poverty, and so on, but is not representative of how fire protection is provided in the US as a whole. One of the things that both makes America great and at times really weird is how much independence is left to local areas. We take it for granted that every tiny little bump in the road will have its own police department, but almost every other industrialized country has a national police force and would find the idea of having a gazillion complicated and overlapping police jurisdictions profoundly weird. Same for fire protection, same for dog catching, same for a lot of social services. We localize all of those, whereas most countries centralize them, for better or worse.
posted by Forktine at 6:02 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Don't firefighters take an oath, like cops and physicians, that binds them?

Physicians are not obligated to provide you with charity care; they're obligated to provide you with the best advice they can once you've reached an agreement. Police are not obligated to help you.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:12 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem here is that people think of welfare as "hand-outs to poor people". That's not what welfare is. Welfare is all the stuff we do so that everyone can have a better life: fire departments and all. Welfare is not a bad word.

It surely is, the way "liberal" is a bad word in the US. Survey a random group of people and ask how many are in favour of giving more help to the poor and needy. Survey them again and ask how many are in favour of increasing welfare payments.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:20 AM on December 9, 2011


So to summarize:

1) MeFi users tend to think fire departments should be part of taxes.
2) The residents of the county in question don't agree.
3) So they should be forced somehow for their own good.

Now who's being paternalistic?
This argument ignores that "the residents of the county" are probably not monolithic with respect to this. Putting it into taxes is not strictly for "their own good" of the people who don't want it in taxes. Rather, it is also, to a large degree, for the good of people who can't afford it, or would have a difficult time affording it.

There are all sorts of similar arguments that could be made, which might sound all nice and logical on the surface but would similarly boil down to things like "It's paternalistic to think that the minority in a democracy have rights even without the assent of the majority".

As for the "It's only seven cents every eight hours, I could afford that when I was poor" stuff that continues to go on in this thread, hey, great, congratulations, you have good planning skills and the discipline to sacrifice for what you view as a necessary goal. Good for you. That doesn't change the fact that there are people who get foreclosed out of their $75 a month homes. If they're unable to scrape together $75 for their mortgage, I think it's likely that $75 a year is a huge hit for them, regardless of the fact that you are to be congratulated on your financial planning and discipline.
posted by Flunkie at 6:22 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


oh, and public transit too. I would make that free, just like driving on roads is free.

Not free, just not metered at the point of use.
posted by gjc at 6:23 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Survey them again and ask how many are in favour of increasing welfare payments.

Then survey them and ask them if they believe that Government should "promote the General Welfare". On second thought, don't. I would weep at the results.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 6:26 AM on December 9, 2011


In other words, this is an odd local thing that comes out of some combination of state law, local custom, the intersection of local wealth and poverty, and so on, but is not representative of how fire protection is provided in the US as a whole.

The degree to which it is implemented may be an odd local thing, but the attitudes that prompt it are surely not. I have seen people espousing this approach to all sorts of services - including firefighting - even here in Massachusetts. There happen to be proportionately more of those people in Tennessee. As an object lesson in what happens when their attitudes become policy, this is valuable. Outside of that, it's reprehensible.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:33 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh man, I hate when MeFi goes into reruns.

Let's skip to what some of us actually learned last time:

1. The town voted against automatically paying the fire department as a tax.
2. The individuals involved opted against paying the fire department from the area nearby, not even belonging to their own town, for protection.
3. The fire department shows up to prevent people from dying but doesn't exert any effort or risk saving property for people who didn't pay for their services anyway.
4. Unless something major has changed since last time, it isn't like this fire department isn't running on fumes financially.

Seriously, why is this another thread? Why not just post a link that says "Now much like previously," and then make that the entire post? Or why not just not revisit LITERALLY the exact same story, just with different names and a little less face-punching on the part of the people whose property wasn't saved for free by people they'd refused to pay?
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:33 AM on December 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


As for the "It's only seven cents every eight hours, I could afford that when I was poor" stuff that continues to go on in this thread, hey, great, congratulations, you have good planning skills and the discipline to sacrifice for what you view as a necessary goal. Good for you. That doesn't change the fact that there are people who get foreclosed out of their $75 a month homes. If they're unable to scrape together $75 for their mortgage, I think it's likely that $75 a year is a huge hit for them, regardless of the fact that you are to be congratulated on your financial planning and discipline.

The problem with that is, where do you draw the line? I'm not arguing a slippery slope, just that for every arbitrary line you draw there will always be exceptions. Just how responsible for their own destiny should a citizen be?
posted by gjc at 6:45 AM on December 9, 2011


You draw the line somewhere on the side that says that says that fires should be put out.
posted by Flunkie at 6:47 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


what this kind of post proves is that MOST PEOPLE IN METAFILTER HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS IT LIKE TO LIVE IN POVERTY.

entitlement and privilege just sludges from a lot of the comments here.

if you've never been in a home you thought you owned but now have to choose between electricity or another month of rice & beans and maybe a little milk for the kids, because you know your shit is gonna be thrown on the curbside soon and you dont want them to be hungry when that happens, then you have no absofuckinglutely idea as to what is to have lived as allegedly middle-class to one day be literally homeless and nowhere to go.

these people may be trapped into a property that's allegedly already paid for but now can't even pay for a fucking fire department tax because they're living hand-to-mouth and in utter poverty. there's a lot of hidden poverty in the united states, of people living in homes but who may as well be in a homeless shelter because at least in most they can have a meal or two.

seriously stop blaming the victims of poverty and inequality. if $75 is nothing to you then fucking raise that money and send it to the family or everybody in that district that can't pay for it. you may be saving lives instead of sitting there and ranting like entitled little dicks.
posted by liza at 6:56 AM on December 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


You make an intelligent appraisal of how human nature affects decision-making skills and you try to work within that framework. We know that people are generally flawed at analyzing risks, notwithstanding a few exceptions here and there. If we held fire departments hostage to individual whims, then they'd be chronically underfunded and unable to operate for anyone. This is why we have compulsory contributions to government coffers, aka taxes.

People point out, accurately, that the city cannot levy a tax outside its borders. This is a sign that these rural areas need to either be drawn into a neighboring city or under the partial protection of the state. Those rural areas are not able to take care of themselves financially. The romance of living on the (relative) frontier loses its shine when you contemplate 1) how the people in this story were not steel-gutted cowboys who stoically bore their load, but were rather more humanly traumatized by having to save their stuff as the firefighters looked on and 2) the area suffers an economic loss every time a disaster like this hits, as we all know from the story of the Broken Window Fallacy.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:58 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


If she had to pay something like a $75 fee/year, she would have put away $1.50 per week to save it up.

Sure would suck to watch her house burn down in week 49.
posted by inigo2 at 7:03 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]



I think this is endemic of the kind of thinking that we're starting to see more and more of in the US. "I got mine, you get yours."

Back in the day, before a bank would give you a mortgage, you'd have to prove to them that you could afford the mortgage, insurance, taxes and upkeep on their investment. As we know, that all went out the window when Wall Street went on that bender.

So now, you've got folks in homes they can't afford to insure or maintain. I cannot wrap my mind around someone who owns property and thinks that his or her expenses begin and end with the mortgage.

If you've financed your car, the finance company will find you some damn insurance and charge you whatever, unless and until you prove to them that you have adequate insurance to cover their investment.

This is just enlightened self-interest.

Yes there are poor people, and while events may conspire to keep poor people poor, the larger issue appears to be a simple failure to do the math.

In a perfect world, if you have X as your monthly expenses, you have to budget maybe, X-10% or X-20% to have a cushion to accomodate the nasty shocks life sometimes delivers. You know, illness that prevents you from getting to your hourly job, needing to replace a tire, stuff like that.

The problem is that often X is the bare minimum someone can get by on where-ever they are, and that cushion, they know they should have it, but what part of one's ass can they pull it out of?

Hence you get people making what appear to be catastrophic decisions. Like not buying car insurance, not replacing bald tires, not getting their kids vaccinated, etc. These aren't really choices, they are the day to day reality of the working poor.

My mother-in-law owns her house. Well, actually WE own her house and that's something I'd like to change in a hot hurry. I was married for 4 years before I discovered that I owned an insurance liability in Kentucky. The house was hand-built, over a few decades, with no attention given to trivial things like building codes. Or an understanding of structural support.

That the house hasn't burned, fallen down or decomposed is just by the grace of God. Thankfully, Mom bought some renters insurance and her beau is pretty handy, so our exposure is limited.

But there are tons of folks out there, just scraping by, in houses that are more piles of tinder than they are adequate shelter. SHOULD they pay for fire protection, either through fees or taxes, HELL YES. Duh! Do they? Some do, some don't.

Who then, when the owner won't pay, should pay? Should we take up a collection at church after the fact? Or should we band together and cover the expense before hand? You know, through some governmentally sanctioned agency...oh. Taxes.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:06 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]




Just how responsible for their own destiny should a citizen be?

I think it's more of a systems design issue. If you design an electrical plug that if inserted into an outlet the wrong way causes the person to be electrocuted, then some people are going to get electrocuted because of that design decision. That's Murphy's Law. You can put a huge warning on it and do all you want in terms of education, but if there is a catastrophic result that can come from someone making a poor decision, then given enough opportunities for failure that catastrophic result is absolutely going to happen.

In this particular case the system is designed in such a way that a significant percentage of the community can opt out of an essential service. If the goal of the fire department is to reduce the total amount of damage, injuries and deaths that result from fires, then that's a terrible way to design a system. You can fault the individual person for making a stupid decision, the same way that someone can make a stupid decision in any dangerous situation, but the fact that the dangerous choice exists in the first place is the core problem that will ultimately result in these completely preventable consequences.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:14 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


> We, as a society, appoint people to study an issue and educate themselves on it, then set a
> public policy enforceable by law, based on that resultant collective knowledge and collective
> will. That's what society is, I think.

Sometimes the enforceable policy is to fund public fire protection. Sometimes it's to start another land war in Asia. Your taxes (a good thing!) at work in both cases, as directed by people who have studied an issue and educated themselves on it.
posted by jfuller at 7:16 AM on December 9, 2011


i know paternalism is bad and all, but it's objectively true that people are utterly shit at prediction and odds-making in real life. everyone thinks the chance of their house burning down is zero, and the odds of their winning the lottery are greater than zero.

Yeah sure, but the fact remains this is what's involved in making a decision. Some people are going to be better at making decisions than others. It's just like anything else - playing basketball, solving word problems, dancing, controlling anger, negotiating, etc. Capabilities are not evenly distributed.

Giving people the right to make a decision, means accepting that they can make and act on a different estimate of probabilities than you. And as valuation of the possible outcomes is subjective there's no reason to expect uniformity in decision making. Someone below the poverty line may well understand that they're getting back 50% for each dollar spent on the lottery but that the dramatic change in wealth and perhaps even more than that, the time spent imagining the increase in wealth is worth the cost. Very few people making 500K would spend $.50 for the miniscule chance to win 20M.

I think there is a case to be made for funding fire services, but this isn't the way to make it. If the starting point is people are bad decision makers and should not be allowed to make crucial decisions regarding their own lives, then where do you stop?
posted by BigSky at 7:17 AM on December 9, 2011


God damn it. Have we learned nothing since the days of Nicholas If-Jesus-Christ-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebon?
posted by Naberius at 7:19 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


If the starting point is people are bad decision makers and should not be allowed to make crucial decisions regarding their own lives, then where do you stop?

That and the fact that sometimes good decisions still have bad consequences is why the whole concept of a social safety net exists. For example, a community might decide that no three year old child should be allowed to die from a treatable illness. If a parent makes a bad decision to not pay for health insurance for their child, and ends up having to bring the child to the hospital, then the hospital treats the child anyway, rather than letting the hospital simply deny life-saving services to the child. It's less not allowing people to make bad decisions, and more realizing that people are going to make bad decisions and having a plan in place to help minimize the consequences from those bad decisions. How much protection the community decides to provide is a judgment call, but the overall concept of helping people even if they make bad decisions is the basis of a lot of government services in general.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:35 AM on December 9, 2011


dunkadunc: Metafilter, I don't think I like you anymore.

Welcome to the libertarian/objectivist "go fuck yourself if you don't pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and live with your own choices and suck it in" metafilter wonderland that always materializes in threads like this (or threads about obesity, etc.). It's a wonderful place that makes your heart sing with misanthropic joy.

liza: what this kind of post proves is that MOST PEOPLE IN METAFILTER HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS IT LIKE TO LIVE IN POVERTY.

There are some who do and some who don't. There are some who do have an idea who will still cling to the time-tested principles of rational self-interest and basically think that other people who are living in poverty or inequality should go fuck themselves fast. To quote the goddess, "Man's life is given to him. His survival is not. His body is given to him. Its sustenance is not."
posted by blucevalo at 7:40 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


In other words, this is an odd local thing that comes out of some combination of state law, local custom, the intersection of local wealth and poverty, and so on, but is not representative of how fire protection is provided in the US as a whole.

For what it's worth, the City of South Fulton (which has the fire department) has a median family income of $35,608, while the surrounding Obion County figure is $40,533, according to Wikipedia.

I can certainly understand why these things should generally come out of taxes and not fees, although there are likely very rural parts of the country where this makes little sense. What I don't understand is being mad at the South Fulton Fire Department for not just putting out the fire since they rolled out anyway to protect the neighbor's house. The cost of a fire department are overwhelmingly fixed (buying trucks, firehouse, salaries if paid, etc.), so if they were to charge the just the amount it cost to roll out for a particular fire, even in the unlikely event they got paid every time it would still be a terrible deal for South Fulton, as hardly any rational county resident would pay the $75 subscription fee any more (in fact, it would be such an actuarially poor insurance policy that I can almost picture the angry Metafilter thread about it). The on-average poorer residents of South Fulton are not going to want to subsidize the on-average richer residents of the surrounding county, and I can't say I blame them a bit.

What I think these outrages are likely to do is to cause South Fulton to simply say "fine, we're tired of the bad press, so we aren't even going to offer the optional $75 service any more." As brandonjadams above says, its not at all uncommon (nor unreasonable) for municipal services to not operate out of their municipalities, and people by and large don't care--I wouldn't get upset if the DC police don't respond to a 911 call I make in northern Virginia, even if they were closer.
posted by dsfan at 7:45 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I hope that fire department has an excellent accountant.
"Steve? Hey, Steve. This is Fire Chief Jones. Did the Douglas family out on Route 12 pay their fire fee this year?"
"Hey, Chief Jones. Hold on, lemme check. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, you know. Their house is on fire."
"I see. Look, I'm down at the gym right now. Can I call you back in thirty or so?"
"Well, this is kind of important...."
posted by BitterOldPunk


Duh, it's like Paperboy and the houses of those who opt out are maroon and haunted.
posted by resurrexit at 7:47 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think there is a case to be made for funding fire services, but this isn't the way to make it. If the starting point is people are bad decision makers and should not be allowed to make crucial decisions regarding their own lives, then where do you stop?

well, for one - how did you, personally, vote when they had a referendum on whether to have a fire department in your town? oh, there wasn't one? it was already there, from a hundred years ago? interesting.

the point is that social structures are in place that either promote or hinder default judgment-making - people born into the middle class have a built-in set of expectations and habits that take the place of accurate prediction and decision-making, and to the extent that they are forced to rely on their own limited rationality, extensive safety nets are in place to protect them. poor people's built-in expectations are that they don't deserve shit and that their problems are not solvable, and they are reminded every single day that there are no safety nets and no fall-backs, and to the extent that there are, these safety nets are poisoned with social stigma and shame.

individual choice is driven by higher-order social policy and manufactured social structures - that should be axiomatic.
posted by facetious at 7:56 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


what this kind of post proves is that MOST PEOPLE IN METAFILTER HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS IT LIKE TO LIVE IN POVERTY.

entitlement and privilege just sludges from a lot of the comments here.


You have no idea what most of us know, about poverty or about anything else. And for the record, I've been poor. I spent half the nineties living on $600-$650 a month in Toronto.

if you've never been in a home you thought you owned but now have to choose between electricity or another month of rice & beans and maybe a little milk for the kids, because you know your shit is gonna be thrown on the curbside soon and you dont want them to be hungry when that happens, then you have no absofuckinglutely idea as to what is to have lived as allegedly middle-class to one day be literally homeless and nowhere to go.

I have no doubt that there are a lot of people in this world in that situation, but we are talking about a specific couple whose trailer burned down here, and you have no more reason to believe that they had to choose between buying rice and beans and paying the fire department user fee than I would to assume they chose to spend the money playing slot machines. The article says that the couple thought it would never happen to them. My guess — it's only a guess, I don't know for sure — is that they could have found the $75 but decided to take the risk so as to have more money for other things.

It's a risk I took back in the day. In nine years of renting, and in five years of owning a condo, I never had contents insurance. (I did have structural insurance when I owned the condo.) I could probably have managed to scrape up the funds for it somehow, but my budget was very tight and I wanted that money for other things, so I took the risk. It's a risk that paid off in my case because there was only once that I would have made a claim (in 2006 when my condo was robbed) and the insurance amount I would have received then would have been far smaller than the amount I would have paid out in insurance for 14 years. It could have ended badly — I could have lost everthing I owned in a fire. Not that I had much, but one needs clothes and a decent bed and basic kitchen supplies (which in my poorest days was about all I had) and it would have been a devastating loss for me to lose everything and to have to replace it when my budget in those days was tight at the best of times. So even though I never took the level of risk this couple took, I can see why this couple chose not to pay the fee.

There are two separate issues here, as I see it: a) fire department services are a crucial service and should not be optional or unattainable for any member of a community, and b) some people, not necessarily including this couple, are so poverty-stricken they can't pay for essentials, and not being able to pay a $75 fire department user fee is probably only one of the bricks in the looming wall they're up against.
posted by orange swan at 7:58 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sounds like this town needs a Private Fireman.
posted by orme at 7:59 AM on December 9, 2011


How much protection the community decides to provide is a judgment call, but the overall concept of helping people even if they make bad decisions is the basis of a lot of government services in general.

My point though is the argument that the government should prevent people from making bad decisions, because people generally can't be trusted to make decisions in their own interests, which you used in the preceding comment, is a slippery slope leading to expansion of government and miserable policy - e.g. Prohibition / Drug War.

-----

well, for one - how did you, personally, vote when they had a referendum on whether to have a fire department in your town? oh, there wasn't one? it was already there, from a hundred years ago? interesting.

I'm not sure what you're talking about.

I would do the same as most - look to what my family and peers do, do the same, think about it occasionally over time, possibly make a different decision.
posted by BigSky at 8:03 AM on December 9, 2011


well, for one - how did you, personally, vote when they had a referendum on whether to have a fire department in your town? oh, there wasn't one? it was already there, from a hundred years ago?

Didn't these people explicitly move to a place that didn't have that pre-existing social structure in it? Probably in exchange for lower taxes, at that.
posted by smackfu at 8:12 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


"what this kind of post proves is that MOST PEOPLE IN METAFILTER HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS IT LIKE TO LIVE IN POVERTY."

Oh, fuck you.

I don't live in poverty but I've never been rich enough to buy a house.

If I did, I'd be grateful, and I'd happily pay less than 10 dollars a month to graciously make sure that if my home caught on fire the next municipality over, into which I don't pay taxes, would put the fire out.

Public services tend to be invisible, which is the problem. Cops, internet, universities, roads, sidewalks, etc. -- this is an object lesson in why stupid Americans needs to wake up and realize that the things that keep them safe and happy and healthy don't fall from the sky due to Jesus.
posted by bardic at 8:13 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would do the same as most - look to what my family and peers do, do the same, think about it occasionally over time, possibly make a different decision.

My point exactly. You (assuming you're middle class or better, hypothetically) don't have to make decisions about a million things you take for granted. Poor people cannot take these things for granted, and are put in the position of

1) needing to make difficult choices all the time
2) without resources
3) without information
4) without safety nets or do-overs.

It's absolutely classic that the poor or formerly-poor people on this thread are unanimously opposed to their own class interests. "Man, I fuckin' made it as a poor person, the only reason you didn't is because you're defective. If I were in your shoes I wouldn't be in your shoes, because I'm virtuous and intelligent." Pure class-based shame.
posted by facetious at 8:15 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


There's so much bullshit slinging going on here in the name of social justice. Is anyone glad someone's house burned down? No. Are people looking at the specifics of what's happening here then making an informed decision to not be outraged at something that could've been averted? Yes. I'm sorry if people aren't wailing and gnashing their teeth with the appropriate amount of vigor, but have some bleedin' nuance to your views.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:19 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh, fuck you.

I don't live in poverty but I've never been rich enough to buy a house.

If I did, I'd be grateful, and I'd happily pay less than 10 dollars a month to graciously make sure that if my home caught on fire the next municipality over, into which I don't pay taxes, would put the fire out.


You realize the people in this story owned a trailer and not a regular house, right? The cost is more like buying a moderately priced new car (under $20,000), not the amount you might be thinking of when you hear "house."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:27 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Given that, a lot of the basic monthly costs of a house are going to be the same whether it is a cheap double-wide for $20k or a small ranch for $75k. Like if you have garbage service, you probably have a can a week either way. Is it unfair to charge them the same amount, or is it unfair that the ranch should pay three times as much?
posted by smackfu at 8:35 AM on December 9, 2011


My point though is the argument that the government should prevent people from making bad decisions, because people generally can't be trusted to make decisions in their own interests, which you used in the preceding comment, is a slippery slope leading to expansion of government and miserable policy - e.g. Prohibition / Drug War.

Prohibition isn't really in the same league as providing essential services, and it seems odd to use a slippery slope argument to defend taking away an essential service that people have historically had in the US. I never said that people shouldn't be trusted to make decisions in their own interests, I said that if you design a system in which people can make decisions with bad consequences, then the end result of that system is that those bad consequences are going to happen. Which is why in general you should design systems in such a way that it's impossible for something terrible to happen from someone making a bad decision.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:39 AM on December 9, 2011


The county I live in also offers subscription-based fire services, but with one big difference: they will still put your fire out even if you aren't a subscriber. You just pay more than a subscriber would for the service.
posted by workerant at 8:44 AM on December 9, 2011


Is it unfair to charge them the same amount, or is it unfair that the ranch should pay three times as much?

Smackfu, that was exactly my point. That it's an unfair amount to make the amount EQUAL.
But I dunno, maybe people around here have as much trouble with their reading skills as I do with calculus.
posted by thelastcamel at 8:46 AM on December 9, 2011


This is not a story about "society" or "America." This is about TWO COMMUNITIES. One community believes that individuals deserve vital services such as firefighting, the other believes government should be drowned in a bathtub. Like a baby.

It certainly sucks for these people, but as a morality tale, this real life situation is about as perfect as the one about the grasshopper and the ant, or the turtle winning the race, or those dudes who walk out of Omelas. I identify with one of these two communities--the one that has a fire department to put out its fires. And I feel bad for the other community, but I don't think it's right to let them suck the community I identify with dry like a vampire leech.

If the vampire leech community wants to reform its ways and revise its tax codes and/or elect different politicians or be annexed by a neighboring community, I'm all for it and am sure the help and knowledge they need to make it happen exists and is out there for them. But I'm not going to demonize the sensible community or their firemen for making the best of a bad situation--for choosing to go out of their way to provide heavily subsidized, dirt-cheap fire insurance for outsiders who have been abandoned to the wolves by their local government.

Talk about one state, one community, one society, or one America in general is misleading, and in this instance is downright absurd. To read any particular person's support for the sensible community as a sign of libertarianism is a bizarre mistake, since it is almost certainly the opposite: an indication of support for civilization, taxes, and effective government services.
posted by jsturgill at 8:54 AM on December 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


That it's an unfair amount to make the amount EQUAL.

And my point is that you could equally argue that equal services = equal price is more fair. The idea that one viewpoint is correct and the other is wrong seems arbitrary.
posted by smackfu at 9:11 AM on December 9, 2011


Interestingly enough, it was the previous incarnation of this thread that started my slow departure from Mefi.... and this one is a lot nicer, frankly.

It's interesting to see that all the commonsense solutions are rendered impossible by the failing society in which this occurred. You can't charge them big bucks on the scene - why? Because they welch out (failure of ethical norms); they can argue "duress", because an irrational decision to save $75 is binding, but a rational decision to spend thousands to save your home is not binding (failure in proportion and perspective); you can't recover the money in court because it's uneconomic to do even if you have a clear case (failure of the law); you can't raise taxes because the voters won't allow it (failure to provision for the common good); you can't shrug and allow yourself to be taken advantage of now and again for a few bucks by people who are by any standards dirt poor (failure in compassion) while the society's government willingly gives trillions to the ultra-rich after they suffer losses during the failure of their inept criminal schemes (failure in proportion and perspective again).

Society overall loses in this transaction. The firefighting team saved no money - they still have to exist, and more, they even have to show up to this fire. And a family lost their home. This is a net loss. The only possible benefit is the "lesson" it provides others.

But what lesson do you learn when your neighbors stand there and watch someone's house burn down? There are serious challenges ahead for all humanity as we approach resource exhaustion and as our environment continues to degrade - is the lesson, "Every man for himself," really a useful one to grind into people?

And I think the fact that this happened a second time should certainly finish the notion that "this will teach people to pay their fees" for once and for all. Teaching people "lessons" by allow their house to burn down for a missing $75 payment is exactly like teaching your infant about sharp objects by giving it knives to play with.

There's a bad old slippery slope argument. Yes, we want a free society, whatever that means; yes, a free society certainly means that individuals should be allowed to make sub-optimal decisions; but there must be a line where the freedom to make spectacularly bad decisions is not yours.

And everyone agrees that this line exists. You might be in favor of drug legalization, but no one wants their neighbor to have a right to set up a meth lab. No matter how pro-weapon you are, there is some level of weapons you don't want your neighbor to have. (Anthrax? Nukes? Nerve gas? Land mines?)

So please don't tell me that society shouldn't protect you from your own mistakes, because you don't mean that. Yes, we need to be free to make some mistakes but not any possible mistake, particularly mistakes where everyone bears the cost.

Given that that line already exists, then I think the "freedom" to save $75 and to risk having my house burn down is not a freedom worth having - and is a "freedom" that's expensive to society every time it's exercised, pushing people into homelessness and a drag on the public purse.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:24 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Welcome to the libertarian/objectivist "go fuck yourself if you don't pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and live with your own choices and suck it in" metafilter wonderland that always materializes in threads like this

That's not what's happening here at all. People aren't saying "fuck you for not paying the fee"; they're saying "fuck you for your anti-tax attitude and refusal to be a part of the social contract."
posted by grubi at 9:59 AM on December 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


Well, they know, as apparently a lot of people here seem to, that the reason they can't have a Fire Department as a public good is because Reagan warned us about all those 'Firefighter Queens' who drive around in flaming Cadillacs on the taxpayer's dime.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:21 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Skip one cigarette per day, and that covers the fire protection fee.
posted by etherist at 10:34 AM on December 9, 2011


> "fuck you for your anti-tax attitude and refusal to be a part of the social contract."

It was not the poor who initiated that insanity. A comparatively small group of rich, privileged individuals hijacked the media and later the school systems to spread this destructive meme in the wake of the new freedoms and privileges granted to The Average Guy in the 60s and 70s.

The fact that aggressive propaganda has convinced all the Average Guys to support a philosophy that's intrinsically inimical to society's best interests and their own doesn't mean that they deserve the terrible things that are happening to them. They are simply ignorant, and they have been deliberately made to be that way.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:02 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


the thing that astounds me about both of these incidents (and no, I'm not re-hashing all my arguments from last time) is the people on Free Republic and elsewhere -- the VERY SAME PEOPLE who argue that the American health care system is the best in the world and people deserve to die in the streets if they can't cough up the $7500 a year for health insurance -- are wringing their hands and moaning about how these firefighters shouldn't be able to look themselves in the mirror.
posted by KathrynT at 11:19 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


gjc wrote: For every greedy city manager who starts to outsource these services, there are voters who let them get away with it.

Yeah, that's so far from what happened here it's not even in the same zip code. City raises and pays for fire department. County chooses not to. City kindly lets people buy in, takes shit for not just responding to every fire.

Flunkie wrote: You draw the line somewhere on the side that says that says that fires should be put out

Tell that to the voters in the county who continually choose not to raise their own department.

liza wrote: what this kind of post proves is that MOST PEOPLE IN METAFILTER HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS IT LIKE TO LIVE IN POVERTY.

You ever live on less than $400 a month with intervening months of zero income? You ever get your only meals out of the kindness of the guy's heart at the convenience store who gives you the day old shit that's been sitting under the heat lamp for 18 hours? Were you one of the people celebrating when fast food restaurants started selling burgers for a buck because you could finally afford an occasional treat that reminded you of when you weren't destitute? Don't tell me I know nothing about poverty. Jackass.

blucevalo wrote: Welcome to the libertarian/objectivist "go fuck yourself if you don't pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and live with your own choices and suck it in" metafilter wonderland that always materializes in threads like this (or threads about obesity, etc.). It's a wonderful place that makes your heart sing with misanthropic joy.

Yeah, you've got a serious reading comprehension problem. All the people arguing that the city isn't responsible for putting out county fires are also saying that the county should get universal fire service somehow, probably by property tax.
posted by wierdo at 12:50 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would also like to point out that I doubt a trailer could be saved for continued use once it's on fire regardless of how quick to arrive and effective the fire fighters were. Trailers are so small and fire and smoke and the water used to combat fire do so much damage it would be almost certain to be a write off, as well as all its contents. The only thing that would really help these trailer owners once their trailer caught fire would be home insurance, which they also didn't have. And I'm thinking the insurance company would make coverage contingent on the fire department user fee being paid. So the question here would be, "Did these trailer owners have the $500 or so it would cost, annually, for home insurance plus the fire department fee." And I can totally imagine a scenario in which the couple decided they'd rather take the risk than tighten their already tight budget any further.
posted by orange swan at 12:56 PM on December 9, 2011


Skip one cigarette per day, and that covers the fire protection fee.

People keep talking about cigarettes. Is there something I'm missing that says these people smoked?
posted by inigo2 at 12:59 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nah, they were methheads.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:01 PM on December 9, 2011


People keep talking about cigarettes. Is there something I'm missing that says these people smoked?

Poor people smoke cigarettes. Generalize a bit here
posted by MangyCarface at 1:03 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't firefighters take an oath, like cops and physicians, that binds them?

The oath in my fire department confirms that we'll uphold NY State and fire department constitutions and bylaws. If the fire department in this case has something similar, they're following applicable regulations so there's probably no letter of the law issue here.
posted by tommasz at 1:04 PM on December 9, 2011


You realize the people in this story owned a trailer and not a regular house, right? The cost is more like buying a moderately priced new car (under $20,000), not the amount you might be thinking of when you hear "house."

"Owned" is the operative word here. Since they didn't have fire insurance (on top of not paying the local fee) I can guarantee you there was no mortgage.

If they were able to purchase a $20,000 dollar trailer outright then the idea that they couldn't afford $75 a year beggars belief.

Is there anyone here arguing that if they could afford $75 a year they shouldn't have paid the fee? If so, step up and we can turn this into a proper argument about the case at hand.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:12 PM on December 9, 2011


Since they didn't have fire insurance (on top of not paying the local fee) I can guarantee you there was no mortgage.

If they were able to purchase a $20,000 dollar trailer outright then the idea that they couldn't afford $75 a year beggars belief.
''


This is such horse shit I don't know where I can begin. Most of the people I know living in single-wides bought them, very used, for a couple grand. They are poor in a way I doubt you understand.

I have better things to do than be on websites with people like you. I've got walls at home to bang my head against.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:56 PM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I suppose it is possible that the people whose place burned down are too poor to pay the fee. But poverty is not the reason the county has elected to make fire coverage optional, and I think our continued focus on poverty (real or imagined) is missing the point.
posted by Forktine at 2:40 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


What happens when the fire department's records have a mistake, and they let your house burn down even though you paid the $75? That alone should tell you how completely fucked this is.

That's not the only structural problem with the 75$ plan, which can be dismissed without resorting to civic morality issues (though I am firmly on the side of the social contract and seeing to it that the poor people get their fires extinguished even if it hits some rich people in the pocket).

It sounds good in theory to say, we go in to save lives but not to put out the fire. That's not so simple in practice. Search and rescue has to be attempted even on a possibility of people being inside, as in, not everyone accounted for or there being conflicting information. The most effective way to rescue people in almost any burning building is to put out the fire. Also it would be an insane risk to the interior crews to attempt a rescue without aggressive and coordinated suppression and ventilation.

What about finding out halfway into the incident (OK with a trailer that's about 4 minutes) that it's a rescue situation. The time spent waiting for the supposed unoccupied structure to burn means that now you're sending your rescue crews into a much worse environment because chances of collapse, smoke, heat, backdraft etc all tend to get worse over time.

I sure wouldn't want to be that chief facing a dead firefighter's lawyer.

It's a dumb fantasy a lot of people seem to have that all things of value are inherently fungible, such as that you can exchange government functions for private ones anywhere they're found, community for affluence, healthy biosphere for higher standards of living etc.

But you can overlook the nuances of the bigger issues and still see this fire plan is just brain-dead.
posted by maniabug at 2:46 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


But you can overlook the nuances of the bigger issues and still see this fire plan is just brain-dead.

Or you could characterize it as an almost heroic compromise position adopted by the fire department, couldn't you?

Asking the fire department to put out another county's fires makes as much sense as asking France to allow Americans free access to its healthcare system.
posted by jsturgill at 2:59 PM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


This compromise, which can fail so spectacularly, is neither heroic nor in the best interests of any stakeholders.
posted by maniabug at 4:44 PM on December 9, 2011


I have better things to do than be on websites with people like you. I've got walls at home to bang my head against.

Congratulations, you've got walls and a home.

For all your whining, I really do wonder if you know what it means to be really poor.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:32 PM on December 9, 2011


I'm guessing we can hold every fire department within an hour or two drive from this house responsible for it burning down. And, how about everyone in town with a bucket that didn't do a damn thing about it.

How about all the people that didn't pay the fee for them?

Then there are those people that didn't start their own volunteer fire department, they are responsible as well.

And, how about God, he could have made it rain.
posted by tomswift at 6:39 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


And, how about God, he could have made it rain.


I don't see how it would be a good idea to drop highly flammable bills on a house that is on fire.
posted by oddman at 8:37 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's absolutely classic that the poor or formerly-poor people on this thread are unanimously opposed to their own class interests. "Man, I fuckin' made it as a poor person, the only reason you didn't is because you're defective. If I were in your shoes I wouldn't be in your shoes, because I'm virtuous and intelligent." Pure class-based shame.
posted by facetious at 11:15 AM on 12/9


Or maybe some of us saw people suffer more than they should have for lack of that kind of financial planning. Where I grew up, some families on welfare would starve for the second half of every month, living off things like soup made from ketchup. We had the same money, and didn't go hungry, because my mom had planning skills.

It's far more condescending to act as if no poor person has or can develop those skills. Of course, we should still increase the minimum wage and I would go so far as to have guaranteed minimum incomes - but I would still teach these skills. I've met people from middle class families who don't know how to manage their budgets, or who live a month behind their paychecks instead of a month (or two) ahead, which is what anyone who isn't literally on the streets should try to do - and you do have to stint yourself to get there.

Poor people have to help themselves, because no one else is going to help us.
posted by jb at 9:15 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's far more condescending to act as if no poor person has or can develop those skills.

No one, absolutely no one, is saying that, and if you are truly having this discussion in good faith, please read the following carefully.

First, when you are poor, managing money becomes much, much more difficult, because there is less of it. You have to make decisions that other people would not have to make. For instance, we're just talking about fire insurance here. There are lots of other costs whose failure to pay would be even more catastrophic, and if you pay all those you might not, in fact, have any money left, even if you manage your money perfectly*. But the fact is that people, being what they are, don't manage their money perfectly. No one does, rich or poor, because people aren't very good at this in general. It's just that some people end up homeless or dead when they fail (that is, poor people), and some people don't (for an extreme example, see Donald Trump).

Second, just because some poor people manage not to be poor in the future doesn't mean that all the poor that remain poor have somehow failed to do something right. This should be especially obvious when the article we're talking about has to do with a fire which, in many cases, can happen with no fault of the victim. Or perhaps there are two people, both of whom fail to adequately maintain their trailers for lack of funds, and one has a wiring problem that causes a fire and the other doesn't. It's luck. That second person, whose trailer didn't burn, has a much better shot at being successful because his house didn't burn down due to dumb luck. When he turns around and criticizes the first family for their poor decision-making skills, it's BS. It's even BS when he says, "Hey, I can 'train' the first family to be better, because I did something right!". Same attitude, different manifestation. Of course, just this is a natural thing for people to do - it's a cognitive bias called the "self-serving bias".

Third, the critiques of this family are all in hindsight. We know their trailer burned down, so of course the fire fee would have been a great thing to pay. But the day before the fire, how strong would your criticism have been, given that fire is a rare event? And knowing that there were other bills to pay?

The bottom line is that people (rich or poor) aren't good at adequately assessing risks and aren't good at managing money. This is backed up by copious amounts of scientific research. Furthermore, people may not have the money, even if they were idea money and risk managers, to cover all expenses we would call necessary. These are the realities you have to face when governing. Pointing these realities out is not "condescending".

Regardless, in a society like ours, no one should be punished for these failings by forced homelessness, even if you can come up with some BS reason to criticize them because your family was poor and did so much better.

*The cigarette example was especially low, since cigarettes are addictive. "Hey, poor people, just give up some of that addictive substance you use! Easy, right? And so rational!" Because we can just reason ourselves out of using an addictive substance. Sure.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:39 AM on December 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Congratulations, you've got walls and a home.

For all your whining, I really do wonder if you know what it means to be really poor.


Why are you questioning duncadunc's poor cred instead of addressing the point? And lots of poor people have walls and a home - like, for instance, people who bought heavily-used trailers very cheaply, as duncadunc suggested.

Your comment totally missed (or ignored) the point that was being made, apart from generally making you look like a jerk.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:52 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I feel like I should invent a board game called POOR just so people who have a hard time understanding what's going on can get a clue.

The experience of being poor means that you have multiple claims competing for a pile of resources which are ridiculously inadequate to fulfill them all, but failure to meet any particular one of them can have a complex set of consequences.

For example: your car gas tank is leaking but you also need to pay your fire insurance.

You can only afford to do one of these.

Welll, obviously you should pay the insurance. Right? Right?

Okay, now you have a car with a leaking gas tank. Do you drive it and risk burning yourself to death? Do you not drive it and (because you live in a rural area) lose the job you and your kids depend on? Do you borrow your brother-in-law's car that turns out not to be insured when you're rear-ended at the stop sign?

So, wait, what was the right decision again? Oh, that's right. There was no right decision.


Being poor does not mean 'not having much money'. It means 'not having enough money'. If you don't understand the difference between those two things you are not thinking about it hard enough.
posted by unSane at 4:14 AM on December 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh, and by the way, human beings do make poor choices. In a civilized society we try to arrange things so that most devastating results of those poor choices are mitigated.
posted by unSane at 4:15 AM on December 10, 2011


Thank you very much for the introductory lecture on poverty. I learned so much more than I did in 18 years of living in public/subsidized housing (12 on welfare, and 6 more on income low enough to qualify), and from having close relatives who continue to live with incomes in the bottom 10%.

Of course no one deserves to be homeless. But one can believe that we should have public housing and fire service supported by progressive-taxes, and that even when that happens, we will still be poor and dealing with poverty also means learning how to budget out costs.
posted by jb at 5:28 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thing that strikes me about this is that if the city fire department simply did not operate outside city boundaries -- which is usually the case -- none of this would even be news. There are probably thousands of homes all over the USA which simply have no fire protection at all, and I bet some of them burn down every year. Who am I supposed to be mad at for that?

I feel sympathy to this family for their losses. But I also feel like they are probably dumbasses for not paying the damned fee. It's possible it was really a groceries or fire protection decision, and not, say, a cable or fire protection decision, in which case, my feelings would skew more to sympathy and less to dumbasses.

On a strictly financial, rather than ethical or emotional level, trailers burn very quickly and aren't worth much to start with. The net financial difference between having everything you own destroyed by fire and having everything you own destroyed by water is pretty minimal. Putting that fire out probably wouldn't have made a significant financial difference to that family. Which, I suppose, makes the decision not to pay the fire fee slightly less dumbass.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:50 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank you very much for the introductory lecture on poverty. I learned so much more than I did in 18 years of living in public/subsidized housing (12 on welfare, and 6 more on income low enough to qualify), and from having close relatives who continue to live with incomes in the bottom 10%.

Cut it out. You have no idea what my background is, so this appeal to your background is irrelevant. Stick to the points at hand.

...we will still be poor and dealing with poverty also means learning how to budget out costs.

And if one hasn't learned? I don't understand how this is in any way relevant to the issues here. A family's house burned down, and due to the way the people in the area decided to have their government work, nothing was done about it. You can talk about how they should have managed their money better, but 1) you have no idea whether they could have, and 2) so what if they didn't?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 6:05 AM on December 10, 2011


unSane: "Sometimes I feel like I should invent a board game called POOR just so people who have a hard time understanding what's going on can get a clue.
...
Being poor does not mean 'not having much money'. It means 'not having enough money'. If you don't understand the difference between those two things you are not thinking about it hard enough.
"

This. Being poor is all about trying to find the best of a selection of shitty options. You have to ponder if getting pulled over for having an unsuspected car is more likely in the next month than having the heat turned off. Can you last another year with your five year old eyeglass prescription that gives you headaches? Everything you do is pushed right to the edge with no margin for error. Bank accounts go down to $3 every month and gas tanks run almost to empty and you pay every bill at the very last minute. If there's something that you can defer until tomorrow that won't explode today, then you do that.
posted by octothorpe at 8:32 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cut it out. You have no idea what my background is, so this appeal to your background is irrelevant. Stick to the points at hand.

Yours is one of several holier-than-thou lectures in the thread on how hard poverty is as if other people did not know. It's irritating. I would venture that coherent points are not at hand.

You can talk about how they should have managed their money better, but 1) you have no idea whether they could have, and 2) so what if they didn't?

What people keep uselessly back and forthing on is the hypothetical 1). Sure, some people are so poor that optimal decision making would leave them in the same spot. The point of the evil heartless members of the thread is that very few people are actually in that position; the people in the article did not claim to be. It's much more likely that the people in question could reasonably have done better and that the tradeoff made for the $75 was not something enormous.

There are a lot of things going on in 2) which is a much bigger question. First, there's the decision making side. If people can't lose when they make risky or just bad decisions, then they will make more of them. If there is no cost to choosing to live in a jurisdiction which does not provide basic services because they can mooch off another that does, then people will do that more. Bad things happening to people who knew what they were getting in to is an unfortunate but necessary price to pay. That doesn't specify that there be no social safety net, but that just providing the service is untenable. Second, there's an unpalatable paternalism of ad-hoc "fixing" everyone of lesser means's decisions. This paternalism and denial of individual agency for the poor is everywhere and part of why some people who have been poor loathe well-intentioned attempts to help.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:30 AM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yours is one of several holier-than-thou lectures in the thread on how hard poverty is as if other people did not know. It's irritating. I would venture that coherent points are not at hand.

Excellent. Which explains why, in your second and third paragraphs, you respond to my clearly numbered points? Before you call someone incoherent, you should at least attempt to make it look like you didn't comprehend the points. Otherwise, it's obvious that your accusation is not in good faith.

If people can't lose when they make risky or just bad decisions, then they will make more of them.

Are you seriously suggesting that people who live in jurisdictions where taxes cover the fire department and have their house burn down are losing nothing? When did anyone suggest that we create a society where no one loses anything?

Why are you arguing against points that were not made?

Second, there's an unpalatable paternalism of ad-hoc "fixing" everyone of lesser means's decisions.

No one "decides" to have their home burn down.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:05 AM on December 10, 2011




Paternalism is not evil, as a matter of fact. Many of the noblest and most unobjectionable features of the state involve preventing adults from screwing themselves over, not to mention screwing other people over.

There is no slippery slope from "taxpayer-subsidized fire services" to "Soviet police state". It is not good for society to keep people poor and miserable - you can't make everyone wealthy, but you can guarantee a certain level of livability for everyone in your borders.

Theoretical ideas about "teaching people a lesson" for not paying an optional $75 fire fee do not play well with reality. The only lesson being taught here is that their fire system is not working out. They need to politically and financially restructure that area. This is why the vast majority of places in modern civilization do not fund fire services through optional flat fees - because only idiots think that plan is a good idea.

As for the family in this story, speculation as to whether they could or could not have paid $75 is just that, speculation. Unless you are from that family, you don't know. If they couldn't have afforded it, then they couldn't have have afforded it. If they "could" have afforded it, which maybe they could have by wearing rags instead of clothes or by literally only eating a small bowl of rice and beans every other day or by giving up electricity or some other life choice we like to think people shouldn't have to make, then there is still no excuse for letting them live like that and having to make them make those choices.

What we can know is that human beings, in general, poor or rich or in between, are often not very good at judging risk, which is why we design systems to prevent people from making every single decision which impacts themselves and others. You would not enjoy living in a society where there was literally no oversight or protection or support for all the decisions you had to make through the day.

This is also why poor areas get absorbed alongside wealthier areas into towns, cities, counties, states, etc. It is not to society's benefit to have a starving underclass of people constantly on the edge of death.

So. Yes. Paternalism. Many times, it's just a mean name for governance. The only people who oppose all paternalism on general principle are adolescents and people who think like adolescents.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:50 AM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Excellent. Which explains why, in your second and third paragraphs, you respond to my clearly numbered points? Before you call someone incoherent, you should at least attempt to make it look like you didn't comprehend the points. Otherwise, it's obvious that your accusation is not in good faith.

That you feel the need to insult those disagreeing with you and claim that they are not participating in good faith is why I am not further engaging with your replies. That you can put numbers besides words does not make them coherent points; furthermore your summary comment did not exist when JB made his, based on which you leveled your accusation.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:11 PM on December 10, 2011


Sticherbeast wrote: This is also why poor areas get absorbed alongside wealthier areas into towns, cities, counties, states, etc. It is not to society's benefit to have a starving underclass of people constantly on the edge of death.

Strawman much? Nobody in this thread has advocated that we just leave people to rot. At least in my case, I'm explaining why the city fire department can't just show up and put out fires. If I lived there and had my druthers, we'd have a fire department all our own paid for through property tax or whatever other taxation authority rested with the county or we'd buy into the city department for everyone.

But I don't, and they didn't, so the city is put in this incredibly shitty situation where they can't do what all the outraged people want them to do if they'd like to keep their fire department. They're making the best they can of a shitty situation while the people living out in the county take advantage.
posted by wierdo at 12:27 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Paternalism is not evil, as a matter of fact. Many of the noblest and most unobjectionable features of the state involve preventing adults from screwing themselves over, not to mention screwing other people over.

I'm not saying that there is no role for collective decision making. Firefighting is a textbook example of positive externalities justifying such. I was trying to say (among other things) why people find after-the-fact paternalism so infuriating. As you state, decisions are made under constraint. I'm willing to hold out the possibility that the county and people made correct decisions. For the county, the cost of providing fire service capable of protecting property may be much more than the value of property saved. For the individuals, the risk of losing the uninsured value of the trailer (they may have had insurance on the trailer or the contents; the article does not say) could have been worth whatever they got for the $75.

I think that $75 firefighting being below the funding line on priorities is a sign that we might need to supplement their income, but not necessarily that we need to rearrange their priorities. That firefighting is more beneficial to ones neighbors that oneself is a valid reason to say it ought be paid for with taxes, but not to judge the accuracy of their risk assessment.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:47 PM on December 10, 2011


Tell Me No Lies writes "If they were able to purchase a $20,000 dollar trailer outright then the idea that they couldn't afford $75 a year beggars belief."

Geez I don't want to weigh in on the "can they afford it?" debate but the facts aren't as unbelievable as this statement projects. People don't always get more well off as time progresses. It's possible they have gotten poorer for literally hundreds of reasons since they acquired their trailer; many of those reasons are beyond anyone's control. And that assumes they even bought the trailer in the first place and it wasn't an inheritance; gift; or the result of some sort of swap and trade. Finally where is the 20K figure coming from?
posted by Mitheral at 1:51 PM on December 10, 2011


I said my piece in the previous thread, so I'll just add this story and quote:
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.
For those complaining of heartlessness, etc.: your $15,000 contribution will cover the uncovered households in South Fulton FD's unincorporated coverage area.
posted by holgate at 4:24 PM on December 10, 2011


holgate writes "The county mayor said folks could expect a 50 percent property tax increase to pay for countywide fire department."

That sounds like bullshit unless county residents have an average current tax rate of $150 a year as it is self evident that the county could straight out contract with the city for fire services at $75 per property at the most and in fact the price should go down because the city would no longer need to collect the fees and have someone on hand to administer the subscriber list.
posted by Mitheral at 6:52 PM on December 10, 2011


Yes, just as interesting:

"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."

Looks like city taxpayers are already subsidizing the county subscribers. If the city could somehow levy a tax on the county households in proportion to their usage of fire dept services, each household would be paying more than the current subscriber does in order to cover all households. Or the city could remain a subscription service, and double the fee. Or they can just discontinue subscription service altogether, let the county residents fend for themselves completely, and avoid the grief of of offering a completely humane subsidized subscription fire service by sticking to its policy.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:16 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't see how it would be a good idea to drop highly flammable bills on a house that is on fire.

God wants to see some titties.
posted by grubi at 6:12 AM on December 16, 2011


That you feel the need to insult those disagreeing with you

I did not insult anyone in this thread. Plenty of people made points similar to mine, so either we're all incoherent or you're missing something.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:05 AM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


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