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The Fire Department is not a right; it is a privilege
October 4, 2010 7:40 AM   Subscribe

"Anybody that's not in the city of South Fulton, it's a service we offer, either they accept it or they don't." In Obion County, Tennessee, the services of the South Fulton Fire Department are provided only to those customers who wish to pay their $75 annual fee. If you don't feel like subscribing, and your house catches fire, the firefighters will at least keep you company as you watch it burn to the ground.
posted by XQUZYPHYR (375 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's just fucking inhuman.
posted by empath at 7:41 AM on October 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


Hard core shitnozzling going on in that town.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:42 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


it's not a town thing, it's a county thing. The South Fulton FD services South Fulton, and (for a fee) other residents of the county. There's no county-wide fire protection service. Something something socialism something something, I'd wager.
posted by xbonesgt at 7:45 AM on October 4, 2010 [19 favorites]


It's not like there isn't historical precedent for this.
posted by odinsdream at 7:46 AM on October 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Although, the "privatization" tag is misplaced here. The city government was providing fire services to rural residents (outside the city limits) for a fee. That's different from privatization, even though at first brush one might think this is due to some kind of push for commercial firefighting services.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:46 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Still don't see the point of taxes, teabaggers?
posted by theredpen at 7:46 AM on October 4, 2010 [68 favorites]


(though is is pretty fucking cold to stand around doing nothing and watch a house burn down.)
posted by xbonesgt at 7:46 AM on October 4, 2010


> it's not a town thing, it's a county thing.

In this case, it was a dick thing by fire chief more concerned about petty rules and fees than he was actually being useful.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:47 AM on October 4, 2010


Did the homeowners not know about the fire fee? Or did they just gamble their house on saving $75 a year?
posted by smackfu at 7:47 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


A lot of people forget that this is exactly how fire fighting operated back in the days before consolidated city-operated fire departments became the norm. It wasn't uncommon for a city to be covered by dozens of competing fire companies (and note that the term "fire company" has survived even to this day) Home owners would display a plaque of the fire company they subscribed to on the front of their home. This served to alert passers-by as to which fire company should be summoned. It wasn't too uncommon for a home to burn to the ground while the appropriate fire company was being summoned, even though there might be a competing company a block away. Another high-point for the private sector providing necessary public services.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:49 AM on October 4, 2010 [86 favorites]


I'm surprised there's not a volunteer fire department in Obion County. They're everywhere in the rural US South.
posted by catlet at 7:49 AM on October 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


Hold on. Did somebody take the angrytownhall twitter feed seriously?

*Buries head in hands* These people should be put in prison, and forced to build this family a new home.
posted by schmod at 7:50 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not sure what we're gawking at here. This is the free market giving people exactly what its adherents want it to: all the liberty they can afford, and not a penny more.
posted by Mayor West at 7:50 AM on October 4, 2010 [52 favorites]


Fair enough, Burhanistan; I'll delete that tag if it's not accurate.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:50 AM on October 4, 2010


Reading the article, it's clearly a gamble. They apparently go way out of their way to get in touch with people, including phone calls at fiscal year's end to those who haven't signed up. It's about as close to a check-box labeled "decline coverage" as possible.
posted by explosion at 7:50 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is what happens when firefighting costs are not paid by property tax levies. The firefighters don't want to watch a house burn, but someone has to pay for the services, as the people in town do. Stupid anti-taxation rhetoric that seems to be the norm these days means that politicians who want to be reelected will tolerate a lame scheme that only protects certain homeowners, rather than be seen to support taxing them for things that need to be paid for.*
posted by oneirodynia at 7:51 AM on October 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


I would be surprised if you could get homeowner's insurance with no fire coverage.
posted by smackfu at 7:52 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


A lot of people forget that this is exactly how fire fighting operated back in the days

So? "Everyone used to do it this way" doesn't exactly make a good point.
posted by graventy at 7:52 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Honestly? I think if people choose to opt out of something like this, that opt-out should be meaningful. If the folks outside of the city limits want universal fire coverage, they can pay the taxes for it like the folks inside the city limits do. $75 per year is $6.25 per month.
posted by KathrynT at 7:52 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


One of the problems with selective fire fighting is that fires can easily spread from buildings that you don't want to protect to buildings that you do want to protect. In the past, whole cities have gone up in flames. That's why most cities have what might be described as a "pro-active" approach to fire. You normally want to stop fires as soon as possible. Having to check first to see if a given property has paid its fire fighting fee would be quite risky. And even if a property is relatively isolated and has no close neighbors, fires can still spread to surrounding vegetation, and can still reach other properties. Sparks flying into the air can spread fires. There are no safe house fires.
posted by grizzled at 7:53 AM on October 4, 2010 [33 favorites]


I think it sucks most for the firefighters. Imagine being trained to save people's lives and property and then being told by petty bureaucracy that you can't help certain people, knowing that if you did you'd have to answer to some bullshit city investigation.

Why wouldn't the county just raise property taxes by enough to cover the cost of the annual subscription fee for non-South Fulton residents? Why isn't there a volunteer fire department (my grandpa was a volunteer fire fighter for decades in his small rural town)?
posted by padraigin at 7:54 AM on October 4, 2010


I would pay the fee.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:55 AM on October 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


I suppose this is the only way to get revenue with the strident ideological anti-tax sentiment which flourishes throughout America.

That being said, it is a blatantly unethical act.
posted by banal evil at 7:55 AM on October 4, 2010




Ah yes, life in a libertarian utopia.
posted by NoMich at 7:55 AM on October 4, 2010 [41 favorites]


"Exactly!" said President Rand Paul.
posted by Buffaload at 7:56 AM on October 4, 2010 [31 favorites]


A doctor not treating a dying patient because they didn't pay for insurance - this isn't anything new, and it isn't any less fucked up.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 7:56 AM on October 4, 2010 [20 favorites]


Honestly? I think if people choose to opt out of something like this, that opt-out should be meaningful. If the folks outside of the city limits want universal fire coverage, they can pay the taxes for it like the folks inside the city limits do. $75 per year is $6.25 per month.

Can a city collect taxes on people who are not residing within their limits or jurisdiction?
posted by zarq at 7:56 AM on October 4, 2010


There are three major problems with opt-in fire protection. First, a flat fee is a regressive tax; it should be proportional to home value or lot size or something. Second, people are terrible at probability and will tend to underestimate the value of fire protection and overestimate the immediate value of $75. Third, declining fire protection is also a giant 'screw you' to your neighbors, since an uncontrolled fire at one house endangers the whole area.

I honestly wonder if the $75 actually represents a cost. I would expect it to be more than covered by a reduction in homeowners insurance premiums.
posted by jedicus at 7:57 AM on October 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


One of the problems with selective fire fighting is that fires can easily spread from buildings that you don't want to protect to buildings that you do want to protect.

According to the article, that's actually why the the fire department eventually went out there:
This fire went on for hours because garden hoses just wouldn't put it out. It wasn't until that fire spread to a neighbor's property, that anyone would respond.

Turns out, the neighbor had paid the fee.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:57 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Anything less would be socialism sheeple. I, for one, can't wait for our Tea-Party™ Overlord Future.
posted by togdon at 7:58 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


"That's a really nice house you've got there. It... would be a shame if anything happened to it."
posted by euphorb at 7:58 AM on October 4, 2010 [29 favorites]


So? "Everyone used to do it this way" doesn't exactly make a good point.

I think their point was, it didn't work for shit back then, so everyone's bright idea now of "hey, let's let people only pay for services they want" is a bad, bad idea for everyone.

My "capitalism-vs-socialism" argument is that capitalism works great for everything ONLY if the customer has a reasonable "do not buy" option available; if neglecting to buy something puts you in harm's way, it needs to be government-run. iPods? Refusing to buy is fine. Rib-eye steaks? I can refuse to buy those, no problem. Fire department? No, refusing to buy that invites a bunch of trouble.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:58 AM on October 4, 2010 [20 favorites]


The pull-quote that leads this FPP, and the statement of fact are misleading. Only by reading the article do you find out that the City of South Fulton only charges those outside its jurisdiction. It's not an extortionist fee, it's an additional service rendered. The real news story was that someone up and cold-cocked the Fire Chief because he gambled on his house and it came up snake-eyes.

It's not fair to every other fee-paying resident if someone's getting free services, and it's not fair to the fire department that they should be expected to respond to the call. Not only is it expensive and dangerous work, but by not calling a tax-evader's bluff like this, they open themselves to losing a lot of funding when people hear about this. They'll also choose not to pay, but still feel entitled to protection.

The obvious solution is taxation and comprehensive protection, but when people refuse taxation, individual fees have to suffice, and if you're not willing to pay because you'd prefer to gamble, you really kind of deserve whatever comes your way. Any less and it's the same sort of moral hazard that lead to our Wall Street fiascos and abuses.
posted by explosion at 7:58 AM on October 4, 2010 [45 favorites]


In this case, it was a dick thing by fire chief more concerned about petty rules and fees than he was actually being useful.

I dunno, it seems like a dumb rule in the first place. Letting the law take it's course may actually result in things changing.
posted by nomadicink at 7:58 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd set myself on fire and plead with the fire department to just watch me burn if I had to watch that whole clip in the second link.
posted by klue at 7:59 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


A doctor not treating a dying patient because they didn't pay for insurance - this isn't anything new, and it isn't any less fucked up.

Except if you go into the emergency room, they have to treat you. It's the bill that you get stuck with after they save you that really kills.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 8:00 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dear AskMe:

The fire-department just watched as my house burned down. What do we do next? [more inside]

My s.o. wants to go in and cold-cock that s.o.b. fire chief. My dad says that since I didn't pay the $75, I can't do anything. We have a bust of Crassus that survived the conflagration, and I think we should send that to the fire department in lieu of next year's fees. What do you think, hive mind?
posted by .kobayashi. at 8:01 AM on October 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Can a city collect taxes on people who are not residing within their limits or jurisdiction?

The county levies the tax, and then pays the city for the service. This is more the county's fault than it is the city's fault. Like someone mentioned upthread: what rural county doesn't have a volunteer fire service?
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:01 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


"... he identified Cranick as a family member of the person whose property burned."

Huh?

Honestly? I think if people choose to opt out of something like this, that opt-out should be meaningful.

From the article:

"Vowell said people always think they will never be in a situation where they will need rural fire protection, but he said City of South Fulton personnel actually go above and beyond in trying to offer the service. He said the city mails out notices to customers in the specified rural coverage area, with coverage running from July 1 of one year to July 1 the next year.
At the end of the enrollment month of July, the city goes a step further and makes phone calls to rural residents who have not responded to the mail-out."

“These folks were called and notified,” Vowell said. “I want to make sure everybody has the opportunity to get it and be aware it’s available. It’s been there for 20 years, but it’s very important to follow up.”
Mayor Crocker added, “It’s my understanding with talking with the firefighters that these folks had received their bill and they had also contacted them by phone.”

That's from the city manager's perspective, of course.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:01 AM on October 4, 2010


According to the article in the 2nd link, "The homeowner, Gene Cranick, said he offered to pay whatever it would take for firefighters to put out the flames, but was told it was too late."

Could there not have been a rule/provision/clause (I don't know the correct technical term here), where paying members get the firefighting service, while non-paying people have to pay some other amount (i.e. 1000$, 5000$, whatever)?

Then probably, there would be less money coming in, b/c maybe more people would rather take the gamble than pay the 75$...
posted by bitteroldman at 8:01 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Letting the law take it's course may actually result in things changing.

Like houses changing into charcoal.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:02 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


The pull-quote that leads this FPP, and the statement of fact are misleading. Only by reading the article do you find out that the City of South Fulton only charges those outside its jurisdiction. It's not an extortionist fee, it's an additional service rendered.

I'm not trying to meta-thread here but I never said or suggested it was extortion.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:02 AM on October 4, 2010


Can a city collect taxes on people who are not residing within their limits or jurisdiction?

Probably not, but I bet the county can.
posted by KathrynT at 8:02 AM on October 4, 2010


A lot of people forget that this is exactly how fire fighting operated back in the days

So? "Everyone used to do it this way" doesn't exactly make a good point.


I'd like to add to my comment that in no way do I support this practice. It's just important to note that it has historical precedent.
posted by odinsdream at 8:04 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


What they need to do is put out the fire regardless of fee paid, and then - if you opted out of the annual subscription - you get dinged for the full cost of putting out your house fire. If they were feeling particularly cheeky, they could issue itemized receipts like the supermarket does when you don't use their rewards program:

Water................................$275
Labor.................................$3,576
Diesel.................................$583
Equipment Maintenance.........$1,260

Total..................................$5,694

With our "Total Protection Plan",
You could have saved............$5,619
posted by backseatpilot at 8:06 AM on October 4, 2010 [55 favorites]


One of the problems with selective fire fighting is that fires can easily spread from buildings that you don't want to protect to buildings that you do want to protect.

This. Your freedom to let your house burn down must yield to my freedom to have a non-burning house. This is why we need government.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:07 AM on October 4, 2010 [23 favorites]


Oh hey there 1850, sup?
posted by The Whelk at 8:08 AM on October 4, 2010 [21 favorites]


I think most people with a modicum of common sense and reading comprehension realize that, odinsdream.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:09 AM on October 4, 2010


Non burning houses are socialism!
posted by Artw at 8:10 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Who does the neighbor take to court for the property damage to his house?
posted by swift at 8:10 AM on October 4, 2010


While I think it takes a special kind nasty to be able to watch a person's home be consumed by fire, hose in hand, as a Californian who has witness my fellow citizens demand government services without being willing to pay for them for others it is hard not to feel like these people had it coming. Definitely a good argument for why fire services should be publically provided and publicly funded.
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:10 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Punching the fire chief and getting a felony charge was clearly the worst next step after your house burning down.
posted by smackfu at 8:11 AM on October 4, 2010


Absent the sane solution (property taxes), it would be preferable for the county/state to enable the nearest FFD to do what needs doing and bill you later, with title levy against the property if necessary. Fairly exact analogy to the Emergency Room.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:11 AM on October 4, 2010


What they need to do is have the county pay it and take it out of property taxes. People are fucking stupid and lazy, but watching your house burn down because you are stupid and lazy seems like a disproportionate punishment.
posted by empath at 8:12 AM on October 4, 2010


So what if there were, say, four little kids in the burning house? Would they just listen to the kids scream as they burned to death?
posted by PlusDistance at 8:12 AM on October 4, 2010 [21 favorites]


Graventy... I wasn't bringing it up as an excuse or defense. Merely as a bit of background.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:12 AM on October 4, 2010


A long, long time ago, back when I lived in rural TN and attended public schools, I remember that those of us who lived on the outskirts of town (the two-mile margin, I believe) had the option to go to the city school system or the county school system, as schools were pretty widely scattered and even though you lived in the county, the city schools were actually closer. At some point in my junior high/middle school career, the city suddenly realized that they were allowing in somewhere between 30-50 students into their school who weren't paying city property taxes, and enacted a a $500 a year tuition on those of us who lived in the margin. The funny thing about this is that at this time (not sure about now) most of rural TN doesn't have any other taxes other than property and sales tax (ie no income tax) so if a student lived in town, and rented an apartment and walked to school because their parents didn't own a car (which was reasonably common at the time), they also were not "paying their way" but no one really cared about that because obviously those county students were getting a free ride, despite the fact their parents shopped and therefore paid sales tax in town.

The only reason I bring this up is because this is the sort of thinking that still seems to predominate among certain members of the populace who insist that "others are coming in here and getting for free what I paid for" when in fact, there's a pretty good chance that an apartment dweller on the outskirts of town pays exactly the same taxes as an apartment dweller in town based on the simple fact that they shop at the same Wal-Mart. (There's also a pretty good chance the Wal-Mart might be out of the city limits and the entire town is losing the tax revenue, but those in town are still sure that some "outsiders" are coming in and using their services for free, but that's another debate for another time.)

I pointed this apparent disparity out to certain members of my family who were incised that the children of illegal immigrants were going to public school for free, and somehow were unable to see that these illegal immigrants were paying taxes, and possibly even more taxes than they were because of the unequal weight of the sales tax burden and yet all they would do was stutter "...but, but I pay taxes!" So yeah, grumble grumble, some people just can't see past their own pocketbook, grumble grumble, a splinter in your neighbor's eye and a plank in your own.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:15 AM on October 4, 2010 [20 favorites]



So what if there were, say, four little kids in the burning house? Would they just listen to the kids scream as they burned to death?

Nope.

"If somebody is trapped in the house we're going to go because life safety is number one but we can't give the service away," Edmison said. "It's not South Fulton's problem. It's not Union City's problem. It's the county's problem. There is no county fire department." (http://www.wpsdlocal6.com/news/local/More-fallout-following-house-fire-104113489.html)

Looks like they'll work for free to save lives and prevent injury, but not just to prevent property damage.
posted by KathrynT at 8:15 AM on October 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


We don't need no water. Let the motherfucker burn.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:15 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


It always does my heart good to discover yet another way that life in the '10s resembles Gangs of New York.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:16 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


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

"I thought I might as well pay $75 a year to avoid everyone thinking I'm a cheapskate AND a dumbass," said most everyone else.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:18 AM on October 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


If they're going to do the Gangs of New York thing, the least the firemen can do is break into competing mobs and have fistfights in the streets.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:18 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


so if a student lived in town, and rented an apartment and walked to school because their parents didn't own a car (which was reasonably common at the time), they also were not "paying their way" but no one really cared about that because obviously those county students were getting a free ride, despite the fact their parents shopped and therefore paid sales tax in town.

Property taxes are rolled into rent.
posted by muddgirl at 8:19 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


I still think taxes are always bad for everything. What's next, Adolf H. Obama—a tax on my Medicare?
posted by Mister_A at 8:21 AM on October 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


The county is at fault for not including mandatory city fire services for all residents through taxation.
The homeowner is at fault for not paying $75, despite what seems to be lots of opportunity to do so.
Thankfully, nobody was hurt.
posted by rocket88 at 8:21 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


It always does my heart good to discover yet another way that life in the '10s resembles Gangs of New York.

*taps glass eyeball with iPhone using the iButcher app*
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:23 AM on October 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


What's frustrating is that the firefighters went through the trouble and expense to show up with their trucks and equipment in the first place. They have to be there to control the fire after it inevitably spreads to paying customers, but they can't prevent it from spreading by just turning on their fucking hoses.

It's a good thing Obion County doesn't handle inoculations.
posted by swift at 8:26 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


WOW. All I have to say is, this makes me extra-grateful for the volunteer firefighters who provide services in my area. If there are any volunteer firefighters reading this, please let me say: THANK YOU!!!
posted by ErikaB at 8:26 AM on October 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


The reason for fire departments is not to put out individual fires, but to prevent conflagrations that burn down entire cities. That's the history of universal fire coverage. In the US, there were a lot of city conflagrations in the late 1800's and early 1900's that drove this lesson home.

Once the cities had it, it spread to rural areas. Now the process is reversing itself.

Forward, into the past!
posted by warbaby at 8:27 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is exactly why Tea Baggers need to be given their own place to go and create their lovely experiment. I think it's just fine if you don't want to pay taxes, I just don't want to live next door to your ignorant home schooled children, or watch you die of a vaccine preventable illness, or worry whether the fire from your smoldering house is going to spread to mine.

I don't blame the fire department, I blame the mindset of people who apparently see gubbmint as the enemy, and use the Constitution as justification for this view, yet they fail to see that the government is also the mechanism by which we the people promote the general welfare.

Yes, I realize the Cranicks could be liberal democrats who needed to use the $75 to rescue kittens that year, but the implications of this story for a discussion of the role of government and taxes is obvious, and irresistible.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:29 AM on October 4, 2010 [27 favorites]


I don't see the logic of them refusing payment, even exorbitant payment, right on the spot.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:30 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


It probably goes something like this:

Politician 1: We should collect taxes at the county level so that this doesn't happen to people who aren't covered by the cities.

Politician 2: My opponent wants to RAISE YOUR TAXES!!

guh.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:30 AM on October 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


1f2frfbf said "...so if a student lived in town, and rented an apartment and walked to school because their parents didn't own a car (which was reasonably common at the time), they also were not "paying their way"

Except that the renters pay the landlord, who pays the property tax and thus the kids are not freeloading.
posted by zeikka at 8:31 AM on October 4, 2010


If the folks outside of the city limits want universal fire coverage, they can pay the taxes for it like the folks inside the city limits do.

But it's not exactly a tax -- at least not in the usual sense of the word in the United States.

If it were a tax, the amount you owed would be proportional to the amount you could pay, and the money would be distributed to fund the service as needed. It would be impossible to opt out, in order to ensure that the community would be capable of providing coverage whenever necessary, even to the indigent. A flat $75 charge on which fire coverage is conditional is more or less selling fire coverage, which is a stupid, stupid idea.

Maybe in this case, the homeowner was just stingy, but there are likely other people who lack fire coverage because they're poor and need the money for other things. And in any case, putting out fires immediately is imperative to prevent the fire from spreading. Denying one family fire coverage puts everybody else around them in mortal danger.
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 8:33 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Property taxes are rolled into rent.

Except that the renters pay the landlord, who pays the property tax and thus the kids are not freeloading.


You are, of course, correct. My bad.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:35 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


A lot of people forget that this is exactly how fire fighting operated back in the days before consolidated city-operated fire departments became the norm.

No, a lot of people don't forget that. They just think there's a reason we switched, and that it's stupid to go back to the old way.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 8:35 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course, TN legislature has enacted a law that will make it easier for Cranick to discuss this with Chief Wilds over a beer: More States Allowing Guns in Bars (via NYT).

I, too, thought of Rand Paul & other TP'ers who think that road-building and fire & police protection are luxuries that aren't supposed to be part of the government's job.

My take: Fuck 'em. Let 'em all burn. "Stupid is as stupid does, Forrest."
posted by beelzbubba at 8:36 AM on October 4, 2010


> WOW. All I have to say is, this makes me extra-grateful for the volunteer firefighters who provide services in my area.

VFDs are pretty great, where there are resources for them. This county in question doesn't have a large city, which is usually how a VFD can sustain itself. They're staffed either by firefighters who have regular city jobs, or by those who are looking to gain experience to apply for a firefighting job. Their equipment is purchased by county tax levies (and usually paid by residents who commute to the large city in that county). If it's a podunk county, amenities like that are usually sparse.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:36 AM on October 4, 2010


VFD's are cheaper than paid-staff FD's, but they are not free of costs.

If it were a tax, the amount you owed would be proportional to the amount you could pay

Not all taxes are proportional.
posted by nomisxid at 8:38 AM on October 4, 2010


Absent the sane solution (property taxes), it would be preferable for the county/state to enable the nearest FFD to do what needs doing and bill you later, with title levy against the property if necessary. Fairly exact analogy to the Emergency Room.

Yeah, I have to say this sounds like they didn't think this through. If in a given case they must act to keep a fire from spreading out of control, or in the case as someone suggested above where there are potential victims in the house, they need to be able to act yet have the lack of financial coverage still be meaningful. Not just have a "we'll intercede for free if we must" clause that people can choose to gamble on instead.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:38 AM on October 4, 2010


I wasn't bringing it up as an excuse or defense. Merely as a bit of background.

Yeah, I misread that as a defense.

Seems like it'd be easier, and safer for all houses involved, if the county levied a tax and paid the city itself. I don't want my house catching on fire because the dumbass Tea Partier next door wouldn't pay a fee.
posted by graventy at 8:39 AM on October 4, 2010


Why can't you opt in for $75, but be billed something like $150 if you use the services without pre-paying?
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:39 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


> Why can't you opt in for $75, but be billed something like $150 if you use the services without pre-paying?

See, you're using logic there. This wasn't about logic, it was about petty parental rules enforcement. The fire chief wanted to make an example out of the guy who refused to pay unless he needed the service. In theory, I can kind of understand his thinking--he's going to send a message that you need to pay if you want him to put out your fire. But, in this situation it's just asinine because it doesn't scale in the real world.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:42 AM on October 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


Wood and hay kin burn.
posted by notsnot at 8:42 AM on October 4, 2010


This is Economics 101 - Public Goods.

"In economics, a public good is a good that is non-rivalrous and non-excludable. Non-rivalry means that consumption of the good by one individual does not reduce availability of the good for consumption by others; and non-excludability that no one can be effectively excluded from using the good.[1] In the real world, there may be no such thing as an absolutely non-rivaled and non-excludable good; but economists think that some goods approximate the concept closely enough for the analysis to be economically useful."

Clearly street lighting or defence is a more 'pure' example of something that is non-rivalrous and non-excludable, but who'd want to live in a town where the fire department would let your neighbour's house burn down and only intervene as soon as yours started to burn?
posted by DanCall at 8:44 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why can't you opt in for $75, but be billed something like $150 if you use the services without pre-paying?

There's no incentive for people to pay in advance then. As jedicus said, "...people are terrible at probability and will tend to underestimate the value of fire protection and overestimate the immediate value of $75."
posted by zarq at 8:45 AM on October 4, 2010


They opted out of the fee, they knew what they were getting into. I say, let 'em burn.*

-----
*Does not necessarily reflect my opinion.
posted by mazola at 8:48 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why can't you opt in for $75, but be billed something like $150 if you use the services without pre-paying?

It should probably be proportionate to the odds of using the service, otherwise you win by not pre-paying. If you have a fire every 40 years, that's $3000 for the one-time fee. And do you put out fires if the person doesn't agree to pay first? Or do you put it out and send them a bill, like they do with ambulance rides?
posted by smackfu at 8:48 AM on October 4, 2010


It looks to me like unlucky and stupid homeowner Cranick took the gamble because he didn't want to pay the fireman tax, and he got justly spanked, good and hard.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:48 AM on October 4, 2010


All I have to say is, this makes me extra-grateful for the volunteer firefighters who provide services in my area.

Hear, hear. My fairly indigent rural county has a VFD. I don't know how we afford it since there's no big city, but maybe the rich lake-resort denizens make up the slack. The VFD (along with the nearby town FD) are designated first responders for every-damn-thing here: house fires, traffic accidents, 911 calls, downed powerlines, etc.

One VFD guy's day job is down at the speedy-gas-mart joint, and half the people who line up to pay for gas or beer anytime I'm there are like, "Hi, Josh, hey, saw you out at that three-car collision yesterday; that was a bad one." He was first on the scene when my neighbors' house burned down and rescued her dogs from the smoke-filled fenced yard. It's amazing -- well before the firetrucks arrive, all these firefighters just materialize out of nowhere in their own cars and get the scene under control.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:48 AM on October 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


This is heartbreaking but two points:
1.)If you could pay $75 at the time of the fire, only a fool would subscribe in advance. BIG revenue drop for a big responsibility increase.
2.)If they chose to fight this particular fire, they could never refuse to fight another. Lawsuits would be guaranteed. Suddenly they're a county-wide fire department on one town's budget.
posted by codswallop at 8:49 AM on October 4, 2010 [22 favorites]


I'd be good for a system where you can opt-in for $75, but if you use the services without pre-paying, you're billed $10,000 or the actual cost of fighting your fire, whichever is higher. Maintaining a fire department is incredibly expensive.
posted by KathrynT at 8:49 AM on October 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Nobody who's worked in any kind of municipal service (libraries, granting councils, etc., etc.) will be at all surprised by this. Stingy motherfuckers move out of city limits to avoid municipal taxes, then go apeshit when they don't receive for free the services that people in-city pay for.

There's free-market bullshit happening here, but it's the county-dwellers perpetrating it, not the fire department. I'm certain the county commissioners or even the voters themselves had the chance to opt in, and they elected not to. I just can't drum up too much sympathy for people who would demand that others risk their lives to save their property but aren't willing to pay a ludicrously small price for the privilege.

That said, backseatpilot's extinguish-and-invoice plan is both more humane and probably more of a potentially "teachable moment" than just letting the place burn.
posted by wreckingball at 8:51 AM on October 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


"The homeowner, Gene Cranick, said he offered to pay whatever it would take for firefighters to put out the flames, but was told it was too late."

You can't buy auto insurance as you're skidding down the freeway into a pile-up. You can't buy airline insurance just as the engine catches fire and you can't buy fire insurance as the house is going up in flames. It's a bet they chose not to make. In some socialist states, these bets are mandatory as they benefit the common good although in the long run lead to wasteful spending and patronage jobs and whatnot, but haven't any of these people ever played LifeTM?

Aside: was it just me or did anyone else have comprehension problems related to the wording of the article? I saw the same thing on Reddit yesterday but with different quotes and I had no idea what it all meant until I read the entire article. Is that the new customer retention strategy?
posted by jsavimbi at 8:52 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


> You can't buy auto insurance as you're skidding down the freeway into a pile-up. You can't buy airline insurance just as the engine catches fire and you can't buy fire insurance as the house is going up in flames.

False comparison, though. The fire department was right there.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:57 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't see the logic of them refusing payment, even exorbitant payment, right on the spot.

If you're willing to gamble on your house not catching fire, then you're probably also willing to gamble on having to pay the full cost on the spot, just to save yourself $75. That means the fire department only gets paid when fires actually happen, which means no revenue stream for equipment and training.

It's a fucked up situation on all sides. Cranick should have paid the $75 or not cried when his house burnt down, and the country should have prevented this whole situation by funding the department through whatever normal taxes they collect.
posted by fatbird at 8:57 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


you can't buy fire insurance as the house is going up in flames.

What? The Fire Department doesn't sell insurance any more than the mob does.
posted by swift at 8:59 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, remember that episode of The Simpsons from like ten years ago when Ned Flanders' house burned down, and Marge asked Maude what insurance would do about it, and she responded "oh we never bought insurance for the house; Ned always felt that was like gambling," and it was supposed to be a funny joke because actually thinking like that is goddamn ridiculous?

Yeah.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:01 AM on October 4, 2010 [22 favorites]


> VFDs are pretty great, where there are resources for them. This county in question doesn't have a large city, which is usually how a VFD can sustain itself. They're staffed either by firefighters who have regular city jobs, or by those who are looking to gain experience to apply for a firefighting job. Their equipment is purchased by county tax levies (and usually paid by residents who commute to the large city in that county). If it's a podunk county, amenities like that are usually sparse.

I grew-up in a very podunk county (pop. 3000, 3 people per square mile) in North Dakota that had two tax and state-aid supported volunteer fire departments capable of dealing with any fire outside of large industrial fires -- grain elevators tend to go up like roman candles. No one would ever think of moving the VFDs to a fee-for-service model; people realize that your neighbor's grass fire is a bad wind-gust away from becoming your grass fire. Even the most rural communities can have good tax-funded fire coverage if people are willing to stop being selfish cheap bastards.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:07 AM on October 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


This is like people who don't vaccinate their kids. "Oh, Jenny McCarthy said on Oprah this might be a problem, so I am not going to vaccinate my kids...but it's okay, because everyone else does, so my kids won't get sick."

"Oh, everyone else pays the fee for fire protection, so I don't need to. I'm sure we'll be okay."

Look - it's horrible that people had to watch their house burn down. However, I don't think we have a constitutional right to fire protection.
posted by Futurehouse at 9:08 AM on October 4, 2010


wreckingball>
That said, backseatpilot's extinguish-and-invoice plan is both more humane and probably more of a potentially "teachable moment" than just letting the place burn.

I think KathrynT's idea is better, though along the same line. In order to incentivize pre payment, the cost for on-demand firefighter services has to hurt significantly more than just actual costs, or else few people would have incentive to pay ahead of time.

But even then, it might not work. There was already plenty incentive for Cranick to pony up $75 a year, being he doesn't want his house to burn down in a fire. He chose to gamble instead.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:10 AM on October 4, 2010


We also don't have a constitutional right to K-12 education.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:15 AM on October 4, 2010


I think I hate everything about this story.
posted by quin at 9:15 AM on October 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


At least in NY, there are multiple ways to set up a fire department. My town is split roughly in half, with the east side covered by a commission district (which has the independent power of taxation) and the west by a fire protection district that contracts with a not-for-profit (i.e. 501(c)(3)) corporation (my department). In the latter case, the town determines how much money they are willing to spend on the contract and then sets tax rates for west side residents accordingly.

The downside, of course, it that it's likely to cost a lot more than $75/year to fund even a fully volunteer department. If the objection to the fee is truly economic, this would render the point moot.
posted by tommasz at 9:17 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


False comparison, though. The fire department was right there.

Actually it's not. I'm no insurancey-type person but I'd be supposing that the fire department has an insurance policy that covers the firefighters and that the homeowners, with their fugging $75 a year, pay in part to cover that insurance policy and thusly, said firefighters are only covered when they're in the performance of their duties as they relate to covered properties. You only get paid if you get hurt fighting a fire at an insured location. Could that be a factor in the town's refusal to put the fire out?

Also, look around. That wasn't a city block going up in flames. Christ, the FD had a surplus five-ton painted red with a water tank on the back. Probably can't afford a Dalmatian. This looks to be an area where $75 is still considered a lot of money so it doesn't surprise me that the attitude displayed by town officials was such. And I'm willing to bet that this wasn't the first year that these folks forewent the payment. Also, they were unable to summon any type of help in the two hours it took to spread? Something tells me that it's not the first time these folks resorted to fisticuffs to settle an issue.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:18 AM on October 4, 2010


This is an example of larger problem with straight libertarianism: the punishment for learning lessons is death, serious injury, or total bankruptcy. So, if life throws you a curveball, which it often does, there's no safety net to catch you, especially if you're low or lower middle class.

For instance, we have excellent food safety regulations. Take away those regulations, and sure, the cost of doing business will go down. But when your kid dies from food poisoning, the "libertarian lesson" there is to not go to that restaurant again. If you lose your job and your health insurance, and then find out you have cancer and you die because you can't get coverage, the lesson there is don't lose your job and don't get cancer.

And in this case, what if someone had died? Would anyone really be defending this fire department if they had stood around listening to someone scream for help, and casually told their relatives that they really should consider paying the $75 next year?

It's insane and immoral to let people suffer when a society has the means to stop that suffering. And when it's also economically damaging to your economy to impose adolescent superiority complexes when the majority wants the opposite, it's also monumentally stupid.
posted by notion at 9:26 AM on October 4, 2010 [39 favorites]


I'm vaguely surprised the fire department can even offer those services outside the city. The volunteer fire department in the town I grew up in wasn't allowed to take the truck to fight car fires on the highway, because everyone in town's fire insurance relied on their being a fire crew with a truck in town. If the fire crew left town, and a house burned down in town, there would have been all kinds of shit.

Generally speaking, this didn't prevent the firemen from going out to try to help when there were care fires or cabin fires outside of town. They just couldn't take the truck with them, which rendered them somewhat less helpful.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:27 AM on October 4, 2010


Holy shit! That's kind of amazing to see this posted. Just a few weeks ago I was designing a batch of tea party parody shirts and I knew I wanted one that said "Obama doesn't realize XXXX is socialism, that's why I'm voting tea party". I spent a day brainstorming what the perfect government service would be to use as XXXX.

I wanted something absolutley no one could realistically be against so I started thinking public roads, or libraries. For Libraries I realized there probably are right wingers who don't feel the government should be competing with private bookstores, and for roads I figured there might very well be people who think private tolls roads are a better option then being forced to pay taxes to pay for roads.

In the end I went with Fire Departments because I wanted an hyperbolic exaggeration of the anti-tax, anti-government position and I didn't believe anyone on earth could possibly be so mercenary as to be against a open public fire department.

Once again I have overestimated my ability to parody.
posted by Jezztek at 9:27 AM on October 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


Again, notion, the fire department has stated that they'll go in to save lives or prevent injury whether or not the bill has been paid. They just won't do it solely to preserve property.
posted by KathrynT at 9:28 AM on October 4, 2010


This is an example of larger problem with straight libertarianism: the punishment for learning lessons is death, serious injury, or total bankruptcy

OTOH, it doesn't have to be your death or injury to learn the lesson. I bet this news story is going to make a whole lot of people in this rural area sign up for fire protection.
posted by smackfu at 9:29 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Frédéric Bastiat would applaud while eating bon-bons.
posted by blucevalo at 9:30 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


catlet wrote: "I'm surprised there's not a volunteer fire department in Obion County. They're everywhere in the rural US South."

To elaborate, where I lived for a while, you could become a "member" of the volunteer fire department for something in the neighborhood of $30 a year. If you had a fire and were a member, the service was at no extra charge. If you were not a member, you paid $700 or so. They'd come out and put out the fire regardless of financial means, but you'd owe them money and they could eventually put a lien on your property if you didn't pay.

Apparently it's now up to $100 the first year and $40 per year thereafter and the fee for service can go as high as $5000 for non-members.

The nearby city was kind enough to provide secondary fire service at no charge if you were a member, but if they had to come out to help fight the fire, one would again be charged a significant fee for service.
posted by wierdo at 9:30 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been to our local fire station and talked with the firefighters there, and they get paid ridiculously low wages. I'd gladly pay more taxes, knowing they are risking their lives for fires that are often the result of stupidity, space-heaters-and-frayed-curtains preventable kind of stuff.

I'd imagine most of the firefighters there that night, even knowing this jerk was too cheap to pay just $75 to protect his house for a year, still wanted to run in and put that fire out, and were prevented from doing so by the fire chief. But calling them heartless and placing the blame on the firefighters for this policy is absurd.

Anyone can say, after the fact, "I would have paid anything [at the moment it was on fire] to save my house!" Tell that to the guy who actually paid, who lives next door to you and is about to watch his own home go up in flames because of your stubborn inaction up until now. Yeah, the check is in the mail. I'm sure you're good for that $75, and you'll make sure to get it to me once you get paid next week, right?

The system sucks, the bureaucracy is petty, but the ultimate blame lies on the guy who chose to put up his home against a $75 fee in a stupid gamble. No surprise that in the end, he lost.
posted by misha at 9:33 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This really is just outrage filter... The homeowner had the opportunity to purchase a necessary service that wasn't provided in the area in which he decided to purchase a home, and he knew that was the case. The homeowner had been told that no services would be provided if he didn't pay the fee, and he decided not to pay the fee. The homeowner made a fully informed choice. The homeowner made the wrong choice. Shit happens, Darwin wins.
posted by HuronBob at 9:33 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Would anyone really be defending this fire department if they had stood around listening to someone scream for help, and casually told their relatives that they really should consider paying the $75 next year?

And again, in four-part harmony, thanks to KathrynT:

"If somebody is trapped in the house we're going to go because life safety is number one but we can't give the service away," Edmison said. "It's not South Fulton's problem. It's not Union City's problem. It's the county's problem. There is no county fire department."
posted by virago at 9:35 AM on October 4, 2010


A similar situation plays out practically every fire season out in Los Angeles Country, Orange Country, and San Diego Country.

In LA County, we have one of the highest paid, highest equipped, highest everything fire depts in the world. When a hill catches on fire, it is immediately surrounded by a ring of flashing red lights. Engine companies from all over the country show up and put the fire out really quick. Rarely a house is lost.

But, we also pay the taxes for it.

Orange and San Diego counties are full of the conservative "Fuck you, what mine is mine" types. They voted down the measures that would have given them a fire dept like Los Angeles County. So, when they have a fire, often (a lot more often than up here in LA) a whole bunch of houses burn down.
posted by sideshow at 9:37 AM on October 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


Karma.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:38 AM on October 4, 2010


I'm always kind of amazed at libertarians. They seem to be a group of people who allow concern for property rights and free choice to get in the way of common human decency.

And the thing is, they have no idea what we're so angry about. "Well, duh, they didn't pay for a service! They shouldn't be surprised when the service isn't rendered!"

And they have no idea why everyone else in the world finds that barbaric and inhuman. They literally have no idea.
posted by Avenger at 9:41 AM on October 4, 2010 [16 favorites]


Does this mean we can go back to having fire insurance marks for the people who are included in the system? Cause those were kinda neat. *looking for some silver lining and it's so thin it's transparent*
posted by msbutah at 9:43 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, they were unable to summon any type of help in the two hours it took to spread?

Who else were they supposed to ask for help, and how should it have manifested?

The wpsd site says that a garden hose could not extinguish it. OK, let's assume a garden hose pumps perhaps 10-15 gallons per minute. (gpm) How many garden hoses would be required to put out a house fire? Quite a few, if it were possible at all. Even working in concert, they wouldn't have the psi force of a fire hose from either a hydrant or even a water tank truck, which means lower gpm and far, far less force and reach.

There's an interesting discussion here about fire engine hose nozzle settings. At least some engine companies set their hoses to 95gpm so that the hoses will remain manageable. Hoses and nozzles may have an upper limit of 150gpm, 200gpm or higher.

I don't think a bucket brigade, even if one were feasible to set up in two hours, would have saved the Cranick's house.
posted by zarq at 9:43 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


On top of it Huron Bob, he stated that he didn't pay for it - not because he couldn't afford it - but because he thought they would put it out anyway.
posted by horsemuth at 9:45 AM on October 4, 2010


Astro Zombie: "We also don't have a constitutional right to K-12 education"

Some (all?) of us do. It's in Washington State's constitution (Article IX); I don't know about any other state.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:46 AM on October 4, 2010


It's in Washington State's constitution

No, he means the real Constitution. Not the fake state ones.
posted by Avenger at 9:48 AM on October 4, 2010




And this is why we don't have a-la-carte cable tv.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:52 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


> No, he means the real Constitution. Not the fake state ones.

I would presume that he was implying that it's wrongheaded to make an argument from constitutional mandate about the availability of social services and provisions.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:53 AM on October 4, 2010


So what if there were, say, four little kids in the burning house? Would they just listen to the kids scream as they burned to death?

Nope.

"If somebody is trapped in the house we're going to go because life safety is number one but we can't give the service away," Edmison said. "It's not South Fulton's problem. It's not Union City's problem. It's the county's problem. There is no county fire department." (http://www.wpsdlocal6.com/news/local/More-fallout-following-house-fire-104113489.html)

Looks like they'll work for free to save lives and prevent injury, but not just to prevent property damage.



Mr. Cranick missed the obvious solution to his problem: he could have trapped (for the cost of a combination lock) one of his children, or lacking children, himself, inside the burning domicile and then the FD would have had to fight the fire to "rescue" him/his children from the fire.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:56 AM on October 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


Avenger>

It's not clear who the libertarians are in this story. But I don't find the story barbaric or inhumane in the least. It appears a reckless cheapskate homeowner refused to pay for firefighter service, and got exactly what he asked for. And I'm supposed to feel sorry for him?
posted by 2N2222 at 9:57 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


$75 is less money than I spent on porn last year. It's less than I spent on professional wrestling pay-per-views. Hell, it's less than I spent on dinner for two one night a couple of weeks ago. Spread over the course of a year, $75 is not a lot of money.

Fighting fires is expensive and dangerous. I do not expect people to do it for free in order to protect my property. In exchange for the expectation that firefighters will take reasonable measures in order to save my property, I pay taxes that go towards their salaries. If I did not pay those taxes, I feel that paying a small opt-in fee (say, around $75 per year) would be more than reasonable.

If I could not afford to pay such a fee, I would have no business owning a house.

I'm having trouble understanding what the controversy is, here.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 9:59 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


The problem with the "trapped children" example (besides that the fire department's policy in this case would've been to save the kids, fee or no fee) is that it's only through the luck of having a neighbor who had paid up that the fire department was there in the first place. If enough people refuse to pay, you don't have firefighters to show up for preventative purposes, and the trapped kids die.

"You get what you pay for" is true, and not something you fuck with when safety is on the line. And this is something you have to pay for in advance because you're not paying for them to put out the fire. You're paying for them to be available to put out the fire.

That said, making it a fee-based service was a dumb move, even if they're vigilant about notifying people. One of the reasons taxes work is because you can scale them according to the ability to pay. Some poor rural family living paycheck to paycheck isn't going to fork over $75 in lieu of eating or paying the mortgage, and the rich McMansion owner up on the hill wouldn't have noticed if that $75 had another zero or two at the end of it.

What the town needs to do is work with the county to extend the taxation, or work with the state and federal government to assist if the county is intransigent. That'd be better than giving themselves the PR headache of looking like jerks who'll watch your house burn down over "only" $75.
posted by Riki tiki at 10:01 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Many people choose to live outside of incorporated city limits because they want lower taxes.

There's no such thing as a free lunch.
posted by pjdoland at 10:01 AM on October 4, 2010


But I don't find the story barbaric or inhumane in the least. It appears a reckless cheapskate homeowner refused to pay for firefighter service, and got exactly what he asked for. And I'm supposed to feel sorry for him?

Yeah, because as human beings we're supposed to at least try and help each other out even if the other guy is "asking" for something bad to happen to him. Conceptualizing our personal morality around "everybody gets their just desserts" makes for a really shitty society to live in.
posted by Avenger at 10:01 AM on October 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


And I'm supposed to feel sorry for him?

No, but you should feel sorry for his neighbors, whose houses would not have suffered any fire damage had the fire department put out the fire and sent him a full bill afterward. But no, the city had to prove their point and now innocent people who did pay the $75 have to take a hit on their homeowner's insurance.

The point of comprehensive fire protection is the same as comprehensive immunization. If there's a separate fee for fire protection, then that fee should be mandatory. Period.
posted by muddgirl at 10:01 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


If the firefighters extinguished the fire, then that's pure communism right there. America's attitude toward this has always been very clear.
posted by weezy at 10:03 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


And you know what? I'm an EMT. I hope to god all you hardasses have your checkbooks open when you have a heart attack because don't think I'm saving your ass for free here in Libertarianland. Don't expect me to do anything just because "it's the right thing to do" or because of our "common shared humanity". What bullshit. I got bills to pay and your arteries aren't getting any less clogged.

I'm sure we can work something out.
posted by Avenger at 10:06 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Imagine my suprise when I found this: An effort to
formally establish a county-wide fire department which will provide quality fire protection and emergency response to all areas of Obion County in a timely manner with no subscription fees or requirements for response.
It is pretty sad the initial and presumably local news failed to even note that there is an effort to address exactly this sort of problem, and the whole internet is getting all on fire (err...torched about it).

A bit more research:
According to survey information, over 75% of all municipal fire department’s structure calls are rural..... [for departments that charge fees] 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 zenon at 10:06 AM on October 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm always kind of amazed at libertarians. They seem to be a group of people who allow concern for property rights and free choice to get in the way of common human decency.

And the thing is, they have no idea what we're so angry about. "Well, duh, they didn't pay for a service! They shouldn't be surprised when the service isn't rendered!"

And they have no idea why everyone else in the world finds that barbaric and inhuman. They literally have no idea.


I think the real telling moment here, is that when the chickens come home to roost, this guy's solution is that he PUNCHES SOMEONE IN THE FUCKING FACE.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:07 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thusly the Swangkee Brothers fire proof houses are shown to be superior
"For Example, if you Examine my Swangkee Photo Galleries, you will Discover our 98% Rock Houses, which are:
  • Fireproof — because Rocks do not easily Burn
  • Hail-proof — because most of the Roof is 6 feet thick
  • Paint-proof — because Beautiful Marble-faced Walls do not get Ugly, and therefore they do not need Painting
  • Self-air-conditioned — because the Earth, itself, keeps it at the Right Temperature, except for a small amount of Firewood, which could be replaced with Solar Heat, except that it is not quite as Reliable as the Firewood, and Especially in Places like Kentucky, which are often Blest with Hazy Days during Winter Months
  • Rot-proof — because Rocks do not Rot, which is Especially Beneficial in Wet Climates like Kentucky
  • Termite-proof — because Termites do not like to Munch on Rocks, since it is Rough on their Teeth, you might say!
  • Tornado-resistant — at least on the Sides: because the Solid Walls are 17 feet thick at the Base on 3 Sides, and about 2 feet thick on the Front Side
  • Insurance-proof — because there is no Need for any Insurance
  • Mouse-proof — because the Solid Rock Walls have no place Designed within them for Mice, Rats, Snakes, Skunks, Cockroaches, Wasps, Killer Bees, nor other Varmints to Homestead, or to take up Light Housekeeping, even as certain Outlaw Varmints have done in the District of Criminals, in Washington, who call themselves Leaders and Experts, even though they Reject the Great Truths that were Taught by Jesus Christ, who was and still is the Greatest Leader of all, who has been and still is Admired and Worshipped by BILLIONS of People, Worldwide, including myself, who has been Personally SEALED by his own Right Hand!
  • Shingle-proof — because there are no Shingles to replace
  • “Bulletproof” — because it is Difficult to shoot through Solid Rock Walls and 3-inch-thick Solid White Oak Doors, even though it is not Smart-Bomb-proof: because that might Require the entire National Budget for so-called "National Security," in order to Build such a House, which National Security is about as Secure as one of those Wooden/Plastic Firetrap Mouse-infested Cockroach Dens!
  • “Soundproof” — because there is not much Sound passing through such thick Walls, even though I am sure that if an Atomic Bomb went off just above the Roof, that some Noise would pass on through — at least enough to make a Person sit up in Bed, and SMILE!
  • and so on."
That's an... interesting site.
posted by zarq at 10:08 AM on October 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


And you know what? I'm an EMT. I hope to god all you hardasses have your checkbooks open when you have a heart attack because don't think I'm saving your ass for free here in Libertarianland.

As someone who has made use of the services of the EMTs on more than one occasion, I hope that you're not suggesting that I made use of said services in anything approaching a free capacity. Emergency medical services knew that they had me over a barrel, and I paid out the ass for it.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:08 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Our city FD won't do fires out of their jurisdiction: it's a liability issue. I imagine the same applies to this county.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:09 AM on October 4, 2010


KathrynT's idea of being billed for the cost of the fire if you don't pre-pay is pretty much exactly what happens with health insurance: you pay your premium, you get hit by a bus, you're covered. You get hit by a bus and you're uninsured - you go to the ER, you get fixed up, you're paying through your nose for decades. It's certainly not a system without precedent.

(Not saying it works, just saying we actually do exactly that in other areas.)
posted by sonika at 10:10 AM on October 4, 2010


You get hit by a bus and you're uninsured - you go to the ER, you get fixed up, you're paying through your nose for decades.

And this is why the U.S. pays almost twice as much per capita for health care while achieving an average lifespan that's two years lower than the rest of the UHC countries.

And you know what? I'm an EMT. I hope to god all you hardasses have your checkbooks open when you have a heart attack because don't think I'm saving your ass for free here in Libertarianland.

I don't think anyone here is defending Libertarianland. We're pointing and laughing at the proud resident of Libertarianland who suddenly became very socialist when his house was on fire.
posted by fatbird at 10:15 AM on October 4, 2010 [8 favorites]



But I don't find the story barbaric or inhumane in the least. It appears a reckless cheapskate homeowner refused to pay for firefighter service, and got exactly what he asked for. And I'm supposed to feel sorry for him?

Yeah, because as human beings we're supposed to at least try and help each other out even if the other guy is "asking" for something bad to happen to him. Conceptualizing our personal morality around "everybody gets their just desserts" makes for a really shitty society to live in.


And you know what, this is what we sorry-ass liberals always do. I totally see why it makes sense to do this. If there's one thing that's worse than a selfish libertarian who doesn't want to participate in the responsibility of living in a civilized society, it's an angry selfish libertarian embittered towards everyone else because he lost *everything* when no one bailed him out when he got in trouble. As long as there are intelligent, compassionate people in society, we'll probably continue to bail out most of these people, but it still disgusts me that there is an organized political movement rallying around the notion that I should have to bail even more of these people out, and furthermore, I'm not a real freedom-loving American for doing so.

So yeah, I take a little pleasure in this story. I hope he didn't have children.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:16 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Also from the previously mentioned proposal

The cost of the proposed system is expected to be no less than 550 000, which works out to be $116.18 per household. Now that is much more than 75$ fee the folks in S Fulton pay - so why would they volunteer to PAY MORE?

Because the service would be universal: like what most of the folks are suggesting here as the optimal solution.

Why it costs more is related mainly to the much larger coverage area - lower economy of scale in the greater county vs the much smaller municipal coverage area.
posted by zenon at 10:17 AM on October 4, 2010


That's an... interesting site.

Interesting? Last time I mirrored the pre-wordpress site was 60 megs of 'interesting'.

So rarely does the Swangkee clock show the right time.....felt it should be shown as giving the right time.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:23 AM on October 4, 2010


This story makes me ill. My grandfather was a Detroit City fire fighter for nearly 30 years. He was there for the riots, putting out fires set by what he no doubt deemed to be "crazy" black folks, but risking his life and limb because it was his *fucking job* to put out fires and save lives and property. To think of those firemen standing there, watching that home burn, a home easily worth at least thousands of dollars, out of pique, over a comparatively measly $75? It makes me want to puke.

I can't believe the people here saying, "Oh, I would have paid." Yeah, YOU would have paid. I know you might find this difficult to believe, but there are people whose lives are bugeted so tight that they cannot afford $75. I've been out of work in recent times, and there have definitely been months when I couldn't make rent, cover the electric, buy as much food as I needed, pay my car insurance...so yeah, $75 is a lot to some people. Perhaps this particular home-ownwer could have paid, but that's almost beside the point. There are probably people in that county who can't.

I am of the opinion that the people who can't cover their "fire protection" costs should be subsidized by people who have more than enough. Anything else is lunacy and will lead to the actual unravelling of the "fabric of society" so many conservative pay lip service to.

What's next? Clean drinking water and sanitation only for those who can afford it? Education only for those who can afford it? God damn this is a backwards ass country.

So, yeah, this "flat tax" of $75 is working really great. Good thinking there!

And I'll tell you, I am not a violent person, but if it were me, I'd be taking down every firefighter's name as my house burned to ash, and each one of them would get a molotov cocktail thown through their windows the next day. I think the fire chief got off easy with a punch to the face.

After 9/11, firefighters were our nation's darlings. But these guys from South Fulton who stood by and did nothing are anything but heroic.

They're more like mobster thugs (pay for protection or suffer the consequences!) than public servants.
It's disgraceful. And I'm glad my grandfather isn't alive to read about this travesty. He was always proud of being part of a brotherhood of firemen, and I'm at least grateful that he doesn't have suffer any shame-by-association with this bunch of creeps.
posted by apis mellifera at 10:25 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Funny thing about having a house burn down, or having a brushfire in the general vicinity:
when the VFD makes its yearly request for contributions (our VFD was organized as a
501(c)(3), which is a little rare), the money just rolls in from homes around the burn. I
assume it is the same for VFDs that are not organized as nonprofits.

A few fires here and there is really good for cashflow and prestige for the VFD.

One of the biggest problems that any VFD will have, in most rural settings, is water delivery.
If the homeowner hasn't arranged for 5 or 10 thousand gallons, onsite, with hydrants, then
water delivery is going to be in the form of a bucket brigade of water tenders, 2 to 4 thousand
gallons at a time.

Without that thousand-gallons-a-minute for thirty minutes hydrant that
you get in the city (or that you get with big tanks on a hill), you don' t have much chance
of putting out a fire that has gotten going, even if the VFD shows up. Your best bet is to
have a fire pump (a pump, preferably gasoline powered) and ample hose to put it out
yourself, when you first discover it.

Even if you have a VFD, there is no guarantee that there will be "reductions in [the cost of]
homeowner's insurance premiums," unless the fire department has had itself evaluated by
the ISO (Insurance Services Organization), and gotten an ISO rating or a City rating. The
scale is 1 to 10, and 10 can mean that you have no fire protection at all, or that you have a
VFD that has not gone to the trouble of getting itself evaluated by the ISO. I was recently
dropped from my homeowner's insurance because my VFD, with 5 engines and 2 water
tenders, and 5 squad vehicles, located 1700 feet from my home, is unrated.

To pay for a fire department from taxes, you have to set up a Fire District, which is funded
by a mill levy (apparently from the expression permille, the amount of tax per thousand
currency units of property value). This is a legislative and bureaucratic process, and most
communities simply cannot muster the effort. So fee-based is the way to go.

The puffery in this thread about "that's what they get for hating socialism" is ignorant.
Fire departments are ridiculously expensive to maintain. You often have hand-me-down
equipment that has been donated from counties or cities. If you have skill or luck at
writing grant proposals, you can get some aid from the federal government for equipment
or operating expenses, but that process takes a bunch of effort and expertise.
Think about insurance for vehicles, and for general liability insurance. Good Samaritan
laws won't protect your organization.

And then there is the enmity from "professional" firefighters, or more specifically, the legislative
advantage that is wielded by the firefighter's union. Here in California, the union, with
the help of a legislator, got a law passed that held the VFDs to OSHA standards, and
required the same paperwork and certification that publicly funded, unionized shops
had. After an extension on the deadline of a year, this wiped out two-thirds of the VFDs
in California at the stroke of midnight on New Year's eve a few years back. Firefighters
that work for Cal-Fire (the state forestry agency that is necessarily has a fire suppression
arm) prohibits its firefighters from working for any other fire department, in any manner.

OSHA regulations mean that if you want to fight a vehicle fire on the road, you will be
breathing in a hazardous, poisonous environment, and you will need SCBA (Self Contained
Breathing Apparatus), in good condition, with tested pressure bottles. That's a thousand
bucks apiece for operable equipment, and if you don't have it, you don't fight vehicle
fires. Period.

I won't even get into the fact that most of the sitations that the VFD in my neighborhood
were called out on were medical assistance, not fires. Some years it was 2/3's medical,
1/3 fire.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:26 AM on October 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


As for the $75 being a steep lump sum, it might be worth it for the county to accept monthly payments (someone did the math to a little over $6/mo), which would be much more reasonable for people in tough financial situations.

Or maybe they're just a bunch of jerks, I dunno.
posted by sonika at 10:29 AM on October 4, 2010


After 9/11, firefighters were our nation's darlings.

And in under 10 years - can't get a bill through Congress to pay for their medical expenses.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:30 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


What's with the axe grinding over libertarianism? Was anybody in the story a libertarian? Maybe Cranick was just an unlucky cheapskate. Whatever his politics, he opted out of the system and learned what it gets him.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:30 AM on October 4, 2010


Moving firefighting out of being a thing you pay for with taxes and into an opt-in service certainly sounds libertarian to me.
posted by Artw at 10:34 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would like this whole situation better as a fable than a news story.
posted by mazola at 10:34 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


More actual research:
RURAL FIRE POLICY
Ms. Dillon stated she spoke to TML Risk Manager Paul Chambliss and insurance
representative Roger Kephart regarding response to fires by SFFD of county residents who do not join Rural Fire Program and was recommended by MTAS that fire department should not respond to non-members of the rural fire membership. She stated she will draft a rural fire policy for approval by the commission. She stated there are about 400 non-subscribers and the current policy is not to respond.

From the municiple minutes.
posted by zenon at 10:35 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I feel bad for the firefighters. They were put in a shitty, shitty situation here, and are going to be made out as the bad guys by a lot of people as a result. The homeowner didn't pay for the service and that action tied the hands of the firefighters. We can debate whether or not the ability to opt out of fire protection is a good idea, but that decision isn't made by the people with the big red truck, is it?
posted by caution live frogs at 10:36 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


And you know what? I'm an EMT. I hope to god all you hardasses have your checkbooks open when you have a heart attack because don't think I'm saving your ass for free here in Libertarianland.

FireMed costs me $100 a year.
Though I think it's a bit of a political scam, I pay on the off chance I'll need a LifeFlight to somewhere.
posted by madajb at 10:39 AM on October 4, 2010


Indeed this is stupid. However, let me give you the contrary, I have a friend who has a cabin, who has to pay town taxes this cabin is on a peninsula with no roads to it. You can hike or get there by boat. If there were a fire, there is no way to 1) call anyone 2) get out there to put the fire out short of a helicopter.

The town provides no services useful to him other than the roads.
posted by MrLint at 10:41 AM on October 4, 2010


Here in California, the union, with the help of a legislator, got a law passed that held the VFDs to OSHA standards

Those MONSTERS!
posted by schmod at 10:41 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The libertarian dream: To live in the ass end of nowhere, to pay no taxes, and to have a road built up to you door at someone elses expense.
posted by Artw at 10:45 AM on October 4, 2010 [13 favorites]


Indeed this is stupid. However, let me give you the contrary, I have a friend who has a cabin, who has to pay town taxes this cabin is on a peninsula with no roads to it. You can hike or get there by boat. If there were a fire, there is no way to 1) call anyone 2) get out there to put the fire out short of a helicopter.

The town provides no services useful to him other than the roads.


Not sure what the problem is. Nobody said your friend had to build a cabin or put it anywhere in particular. If he wanted to pay less taxes, he should have put his cabin in a place with lower taxes, or if he wanted to get more citizen bang for taxpayer buck, he should have put his cabin somewhere where he could more readily avail himself of the town's services.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:46 AM on October 4, 2010


(That or to live on the moon and have a mass driver catapult)
posted by Artw at 10:46 AM on October 4, 2010


Interesting? Last time I mirrored the pre-wordpress site was 60 megs of 'interesting'.

Yes, Interesting.

Here's more on his "red Jew vs. white Jew" distinction.

Would you prefer I went with a more focused description? I'm making a deliberate choice not to do so. After all, this may not be much more than a "look at these assholes" post, but I don't think XQUZYPHYR would like it to be derailed by me ranting about an what an asshole Holocaust denier Mr. Swangkee seems to be.
posted by zarq at 10:48 AM on October 4, 2010


Perhaps this particular home-owner could have paid, but that's almost beside the point.

No it's not--it's exactly the point. The difference between "can't pay" and "won't pay" is exactly the issue here. Cranick was ready to pay the full expense of fighting the fire when he needed it, so he was just being a cheapskate. And why should a cheapskate pay up when he knows they'll do it out of some sense of professional obligation?

It would be appropriate to means test the fire fee. It would be more appropriate to fund a proper fire department out of a general tax revenue for the county. But in the situation Cranick was in, he had no one to blame but himself, and punching out the fire chief (or throwing a molotov cocktail at his house) is aggression he should have directed at himself.
posted by fatbird at 10:48 AM on October 4, 2010


Volokh brings up two good points: first, Cranick apparently set the fire himself, in burn barrels in the back yard. Second, he told the 911 operator that he would pay "whatever it took," but does that make a contract? I don't know anything about contract law, but would those three words really put him on the hook for however much the fire department spent?
posted by KathrynT at 10:49 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


the Real Dan, re volunteer fire departments, my maternal Grandfather lived his entire life in a village just outside of NYC on Long Island, and was an active volunteer firefighter there for probably over 60 years of that life. When I got together with him he was in his 80s, giggling over just having had his "Fireman 1st Class" cert re-upped by the state, but one of his big concerns was how his town was going to continue to provide volunteer services with the huge increase in ambulance calls that the fire department was responding to. Fire calls (along with the population of the village) had stayed roughly constant over those decades of service, but ambulance calls had gone up... I'm trying to remember, but something on the order of nearly a hundred-fold. Yes, really.

So where the volunteers used to get called up once a week or two, they're now getting called out of bed more than once a night on average. Mostly for things where people should have dealt with it themselves, or driven their own kid to the hospital.

Needless to say, this negatively impacted enthusiasm for participation in the VFD, and they were soon going to have to switch over to a paid fire department, causing huge tax increases. Local participation in your community sometimes means putting the band-aid on your kid yourself.
</threadjack>

I think those perceived as more callous in this thread have said everything I would. There is a lot to making a house, even in an urban area, reasonably protected from fire. $75/year is the least of it. If you can't be arsed to pay that then I've no sympathy. Forcing someone to pay that via taxes may stop the Internet outrage, but it doesn't provide the moral hazard that encourages people to actually step the hell up and participate in their community's safety.

And if you're really so poor that you can't swing $6.25 a month, ask your neighbors to pony up for ya. If you can't get inspire them to that small level of humanity, you sure can't inspire me to it. Punching someone as a reaction to not being able to do either of those things is a pretty solid indication that Mr. Cranick had it coming.
posted by straw at 10:52 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't know anything about contract law, but would those three words really put him on the hook for however much the fire department spent?

Your house burning down would seem to be a textbook case of "under duress".
posted by fatbird at 10:53 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is exactly why Tea Baggers need to be given their own place to go and create their lovely experiment.

Bioshock III!
posted by The Bellman at 10:54 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


If he wanted to pay less taxes, he should have put his cabin in a place with lower taxes, or if he wanted to get more citizen bang for taxpayer buck, he should have put his cabin somewhere where he could more readily avail himself of the town's services.

I don't agree with this. If you're paying for services, they should be available to you if you qualify (this includes "might possibly qualify at some point in the future" things like welfare and ambulences). There's no reasonable case in which MrLint's friend will have emergency services available to him, and it frankly sounds like the local town has annexed some land that it has no ability or intention to serve.

If I were MrLint's friend, I would complain to the state government about the town lines and see if he can't get his land reclassified in some way. Might not be anything they can (or are willing to) do, but that's the way to escalate this if he wants to fight those taxes. That or the civil disobedience of refusing to pay the part of the taxes that go to those services, but that's likely to be more hassle than it's actually worth.
posted by Riki tiki at 10:55 AM on October 4, 2010


*ring*
*ring*
"Hello, South Fulton Fire Department, may I help you?"
"Yes ma'am, I'd like to sign up for your fire protection plan."
"Certainly sir, that's seventy-five dollars. Have you received our mailers? You can send it in by check."
"Thanks, that's great. Do you take credit cards, or debit cards?"
"Yes sir, we can do that."
"Great, can you take my credit card number over the phone?"
"Yes sir, we can do that. I need the card number, the name on the card, the expiration date, and the security code on the back. Of course, we need your address as well."

The caller provides the details. The receptionist takes the information.

"Ok, your coverage is started. Is there anything else I can help you with today?"
"Yes ma'am, there sure is."
"Yes sir, what will that be?"
"I need to speak to someone in dispatch, or emergency services."
"Yes sir, but first, perhaps I can answer your questions?"
"Uh...I don't know. What I really need to know is...how fast can you get a fire truck over here? My shed has mostly burned, and I think the house is on fire now. I can't really stay on the phone...so can y'all hurry? Thanks...uh...gotta go. Bye!"
posted by Xoebe at 10:57 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


f you can't be arsed to pay that then I've no sympathy. Forcing someone to pay that via taxes may stop the Internet outrage, but it doesn't provide the moral hazard that encourages people to actually step the hell up and participate in their community's safety.

This "moral hazard" is going to burn even the people who voluntarily anted up for the service. That's my whole problem, and one that none of the "We told you so" brigade seems to want to address.
posted by muddgirl at 11:02 AM on October 4, 2010


Second, he told the 911 operator that he would pay "whatever it took," but does that make a contract? I don't know anything about contract law, but would those three words really put him on the hook for however much the fire department spent?

No acceptance, no contract. The 911 operator probably could not accept this contract on behalf of the city. Further, given the large cost of putting out a fire, it's likely that this oral contract would run afoul of the statute of frauds in TN - in most places, if the transaction rises above a certain dollar amount, the contract has to be in writing to be enforceable.

Even if an appropriate city rep were to present a written contract to the homeowner stating that he would pay "whatever it took" to put out the fire, the homeowner would be wise to claim that he was under duress when he made this contract. While the city did not start the fire to induce him into the contract, the city was at least theoretically withholding the only means of saving his house.

There is also the issue of whether or not the homeowner could have actually paid the exorbitant bill.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:03 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


As usual the onion nails it.
posted by askmehow at 11:21 AM on October 4, 2010


This "moral hazard" is going to burn even the people who voluntarily anted up for the service. That's my whole problem, and one that none of the "We told you so" brigade seems to want to address.

I don't know if I'm part of the "we told you so" brigade or not, but I'm not sure what your point is.

The neighbor's house also caught on fire. As the neighbor was "a member of the rural fire subscription service," the fire department put out their fire.

Did I get that wrong? Isn't that the only reason the fire department was on the scene? To put out the fire at the other house?

He said the South Fulton Fire Department did respond to a request to protect the property of the adjacent property owner, who is a member of the rural fire subscription service.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:28 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Perhaps this particular home-ownwer could have paid, but that's almost beside the point.

This falls under the precept that not everyone is qualified to own a house. There are long-term expenditures, responsibilities and upkeep needed to keep the dwelling habitable and to do so while simultaneously achieving economies of scale and low consumer prices, you need to enter a contract with your city/county to provide assessed funding in the exchange of services. And, in my opinion, these taxes (education, health care, safety and human waste removal) need to be compulsory for the greater good and safety of the community as a whole, not at the whim of a few hermits of convenience.

However, Cranick decided he was going to go a la carte and enjoy his $75 freedoms while burning trash in a barrel under the protection of a garden hose. Well, his order needs three business days for processing.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:32 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is like people who don't vaccinate their kids. "Oh, Jenny McCarthy said on Oprah this might be a problem, so I am not going to vaccinate my kids...but it's okay, because everyone else does, so my kids won't get sick."

We were at a new parents gathering at a local kiddie store and I heard someone talk about not vaccinating because, "when was the last time you heard of someone getting polio?"

We got out of there pretty quick.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:38 AM on October 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


The neighbor's house also caught on fire. As the neighbor was "a member of the rural fire subscription service," the fire department put out their fire.

Did I get that wrong? Isn't that the only reason the fire department was on the scene? To put out the fire at the other house?


The neighbor's houses, in general, would not have caught on fire at all if the fire department had put the fire out earlier.

Yes, the neighbor's houses were not completely destroyed, but there would be some fire damage that would not otherwise have occurred. Therefore, the neighbors were punished because one guy did not pay his $75.

Perhaps in the future, the neighborhood will come together and decide to require all residents on the street to pay the fire department fee, so that no houses are damaged due to one person's views on the necessity of a fire department. We call that a "tax".
posted by muddgirl at 11:41 AM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


So what would have happened if the fire department had put out the fire? If Cranick's assumption was right, and they put it out whether or not he paid, what would be the incentive to pay the $75 fee, other than a sense of duty? If a large number of people decided to no longer pay because "they put out Cranick's fire, and he didn't pay, so I'm not paying", what's the impact? I think this has alot to do with the decision not to put out the fire.
If a significant number of people no longer paid, this would mean less revenue, and maybe less fire services. You could raise property taxes, but this would only impact the city property owners. This mean that not only will rural residents save the $75, but they will also not be impacted by the higher property taxes; WIN WIN!!
Unless, of course, the city FD decides to no longer cover the county residences AT ALL.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 11:46 AM on October 4, 2010


BozoBurgerBonanza: "So what would have happened if the fire department had put out the fire? If Cranick's assumption was right, and they put it out whether or not he paid, what would be the incentive to pay the $75 fee, other than a sense of duty? If a large number of people decided to no longer pay because "they put out Cranick's fire, and he didn't pay, so I'm not paying", what's the impact? I think this has alot to do with the decision not to put out the fire.
If a significant number of people no longer paid, this would mean less revenue, and maybe less fire services. You could raise property taxes, but this would only impact the city property owners. This mean that not only will rural residents save the $75, but they will also not be impacted by the higher property taxes; WIN WIN!!
Unless, of course, the city FD decides to no longer cover the county residences AT ALL.
"

Well then the FD BILLS the guy who wasn't under the protection plan at some outrageous rate to provide incentive to pay into the damn fund in the future. It's not rocket science.
posted by NiteMayr at 11:50 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think most people with a modicum of common sense and reading comprehension realize that, odinsdream.

One can never be too clear on the internet.
posted by odinsdream at 11:51 AM on October 4, 2010


You'd think your homeowner's insurance would require you to pay the fire district fee, but I'm guessing someone who declines to pay $75 for fire protection probably isn't going to splurge on a sucker's bet like insurance.
posted by electroboy at 11:59 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


For clarity: The neighbor's field caught fire.

And, yeah, despite my lack of sympathy for the Cranicks, i'm with muddgirl. If your neighbors won't behave in a neighborly fashion, that's why we have taxes and government: to force responsibility on them when their irresponsibility causes us risk.
posted by straw at 12:00 PM on October 4, 2010


"If somebody is trapped in the house we're going to go because life safety is number one but we can't give the service away," Edmison said. "It's not South Fulton's problem. It's not Union City's problem. It's the county's problem. There is no county fire department."

There is also no Obion County website. I'm guessing that the county hasn't got a lot of resources period.
posted by blucevalo at 12:02 PM on October 4, 2010


Cranick's fire

I would not be surprised to see a band, barroom or trivia team named as such in the near future.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:05 PM on October 4, 2010


Wow.

I don't know what's more insane - that a fire department sat there and watched as someone's house burned down, or that many people seem to think that that was the right thing to do.

The strategy of "sitting there and watching the house burn" is beaten in every way by the "charge the homeowner a lot of money to put it out" strategy. The homeowner gets to keep his house (at a cost), the fire department makes a profit, people see the fine and have an incentive to pay ("Wow, he paid $10K!"). Everyone wins.

Compared with this actual scenario, where the man loses his house, and the fire department gets no revenue and everyone hates them.

I guess a lot of people just like the idea of "teaching someone a lesson" by sitting there and watching his house burn down. But it's astonishingly, inhumanly cruel, and economically stupid on everyone's part.

No wonder people went and beat up the firemen. What a disgrace.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:11 PM on October 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


Well then the FD BILLS the guy who wasn't under the protection plan at some outrageous rate to provide incentive to pay into the damn fund in the future. It's not rocket science.

Neither is Cranick's claim that he agreed to pay under duress because they were holding hostage the service to put out the fire. Or his refusal to pay all the exorbitant fee because it's obviously unreasonable and punitive. Or maybe he just can't pay the exorbitant fee and says "what are you going to do, take my house?" Imagine the metafilter thread: "FD seizes house for non-payment of fire services".
posted by fatbird at 12:11 PM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think it's more "inhumane" and "barbaric" of Cranick to expect other people to risk their LIVES to save his STUFF even though he didn't pay. While I don't want to downplay how devastating it would be to lose your entire home in a fire, and I'm sure a lot of the firefighters would have tried to help if they were allowed, it seems like a fair line to draw: if you don't pay, we'll only risk our lives to rescue another person.

What the firefighters had ignored the rules and responded to help? What if one of them had died or been injured in doing so? Would they or their families still be taken care of? Part of paying for fire protection through taxes or fees accounts for the monumental risk the firefighters are taking when they respond to your call.
posted by kalanchoe at 12:13 PM on October 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


but we can't give the service away," Edmison said

Ignoring the fact that the homeowner begged to pay them to perform this service! Even in Gangs of New York you could pay the fire department on the spot.

Really. How can these people look themselves in the mirror?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:13 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Had this been a scene on the fireperson version of the wire, a lot of scowling fire fighters would have watched the house burn while at least one would have been arguing with his superior, saying WE DON'T DO THIS! WE PUT OUT FIRES! WE DON'T WATCH AS HOUSES BURN! And then somebody would have socked somebody in the jaw, and fire fighters would have quite, and McNulty would have made sure the fire chief was fucked over hard for doing this.

This is why The Wire, even my imaginary fire fighter version, was better than real life. Because in real life, everybody stands and watches if they didn't get their $75.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:14 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


> I think it's more "inhumane" and "barbaric" of Cranick to expect other people to risk their LIVES to save his STUFF even though he didn't pay.

Did you, like, read the article? Where he offered to pay whatever they asked and they wouldn't accept his money - to set an example to others?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:15 PM on October 4, 2010


> Neither is Cranick's claim that he agreed to pay under duress because they were holding hostage the service to put out the fire.

Let me get this straight. You think it was a good idea for the firemen to stand by and let his house burn because conceivably he might have tried to stiff them for the bill afterward?

:-o

You know, in societies that aren't filled with psychopaths, there's a terribly simple solution to such matters... these things are paid for by your taxes, which the government forces you to pay.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:19 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cranick got a really harsh lesson in the risks of being a free rider. It's not inhumane to fail to shield him from the consequences of that. When you're talking about someone's life, yes; not when you're talking about someone's property.

Where he offered to pay whatever they asked and they wouldn't accept his money

"My house is burning down! I'll pay you anything to put it out!"

Do you know he's got the money? Do you know he'll be willing to pay after the fact? Are you prepared for a lengthy court battle to get the money out of him when it's not even clear that the law is on your side? Should I risk my life fighting the fire in your house when you were too cheap to pay a minimal fee to ensure that I have the equipment and training I need to fight fires?
posted by fatbird at 12:22 PM on October 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


You know, in societies that aren't filled with psychopaths, there's a terribly simple solution to such matters... these things are paid for by your taxes, which the government forces you to pay.

As was observed in the Volokh thread, it can be incredibly hard to pass measures to tax for fire services in rural areas because the taxes are usually higher than the subscription fees and it means the fire chief gets to enforce fire codes. In other words, they choose not to make it a county-wide service-for-taxes, just like Cranick chose not to pay $75.
posted by fatbird at 12:24 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Let me get this straight. You think it was a good idea for the firemen to stand by and let his house burn because conceivably he might have tried to stiff them for the bill afterward?

Basically, but it's a lot more complicated than that in legal terms. Can the 911 dispatcher bind the fire department in a five-figure contract with a man whose house is burning down? Does verbally agreeing to such a contract under duress count as signing a contract? In Tennessee, if I read the comment right, a contract over a couple thousand dollars requires something in writing--verbal contracts are

Now, the county could work out a system where you can agree to pay the actual cost of firefighting, and then put a lien on your house if you don't pony up, adding thousands in lawyer's fees and time for county clerks.

Or Cranick can just pay the $75 before his house is on fire.
posted by fatbird at 12:28 PM on October 4, 2010


> Do you know he's got the money? Do you know he'll be willing to pay after the fact? Are you prepared for a lengthy court battle to get the money out of him when it's not even clear that the law is on your side? Should I risk my life fighting the fire in your house when you were too cheap to pay a minimal fee to ensure that I have the equipment and training I need to fight fires?

I am flabbergasted - simply amazed.

There are obvious answers to all these questions but what it comes down to is the fact that you're so distrustful of human beings that you'd allow someone's house to burn down because he might conceivably try to renege on a signed, witnessed contract.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:32 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the end, everyone would have been better served by making the fee mandatory.
posted by smackfu at 12:35 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can just see the conversation now.

"I'll pay you anything... anything!"

"Sorry, we don't trust you."

"What??"

"You might claim the contract was signed under duress."

"Please! I'll sign anything!"

"Sorry. No matter what you do, we couldn't ever 100% trust you to pay."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:36 PM on October 4, 2010


It's not that they might possibly renege on the contract, it's that an enforceable contract can't be signed under those circumstances. The FD doesn't just need that contract in order to get paid; they also need it to release them of liability when they do things like cut holes in your roof. It seems like it would be madness to ask the FD to work not only potentially for free but also potentially under full liability, when the guy provably didn't think their services were worth investing in previously.

Never mind the fact that it's quite possible that a fire department would have made the choice to let the structure burn anyway, even if there had been full coverage. "Prevent all possible property damage regardless of the danger to life and limb" isn't exactly the way these things work. The mission of the fire department is to save and protect lives, not to keep your house from burning down. If they judge that the house is less dangerous fully burned than half burned (because of collapse or whatever), or that there's a non-trivial risk of a firefighter getting killed or injured, they have the duty and responsibility to let it burn.
posted by KathrynT at 12:43 PM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Sorry. No matter what you do, we couldn't ever 100% trust you to pay."

I just put the deposit on the floors for the place my wife and I just bought. Why didn't the flooring place just trust me?
posted by fatbird at 12:43 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is nothing to say to people who think he deserved it, except that there is a lot you deserve as well in somebody else's eyes, and hopefully that person will have more compassion than you.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:43 PM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


RECAP: it was NOT the COST that was the factor: per the actual minutes I posted earlier:
South Fulton does not provide service because of the RISK.
posted by zenon at 12:44 PM on October 4, 2010


The town provides no services useful to him other than the roads.

*cough*police protection*cough*
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:44 PM on October 4, 2010


Cost recovery is also an issue: As I previously noted: 50% of fees other fire services in the county charged went uncollected & there was no mechanism for them to legally collect: no liens, and they don't have the authority to ask for lien: the county would have to give the go ahead on such a project & I can't imagine it being particularly popular.
posted by zenon at 12:46 PM on October 4, 2010


Let's not forget that the fire department didn't respond until after another person's property was damaged. In the end, it was just some grass, but what if it was drier and windier and the house caught fire, or two houses, or a giant grass fire started before they could get there? How does it make sense to put yourself more at risk to teach Cheapie McGee a lesson?
posted by dirigibleman at 12:47 PM on October 4, 2010


Burhanistan: I would presume that he was implying that it's wrongheaded to make an argument from constitutional mandate about the availability of social services and provisions

Yup, and I agree, but that particular comparison doesn't necessarily work (if we count those fake state constitutions and not just the real one).
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:47 PM on October 4, 2010


What's with the axe grinding over libertarianism? Was anybody in the story a libertarian? Maybe Cranick was just an unlucky cheapskate. Whatever his politics, he opted out of the system and learned what it gets him.

This story demonstrates why libertarian ideas are horrible, but it only demonstrates it to non-libertarians. See, non-libertarians mostly think that compulsory taxation is a small price to pay to live in a society where people are protected to some extent even from their own bad choices.

If there had been mandatory taxation and fire protection service for all, this wouldn't have happened, and this man and society at large would be a house richer for it. But because (de facto if not self-described) libertarians would rather public services be opt-in, hundreds of thousands of dollars in value (I'm guessing) just went up in flames.
posted by callmejay at 12:47 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Would you prefer I went with a more focused description?

No.

No need to spend time on the enhanced re-written bible stuff. That alone should be enough for most to move on to other 'interesting' sites. (not to mention it seemed to be the same groups who had the same name-calling suck under the magnifying glass. )

I don't remember what you quoted the last time I looked on the site - it might be new. Or with 60 or so meg it might be there and I missed it. Either way, once you get strong religion in something it fosters a 'us VS them' and it rarely seems to end well :-(

Yet at the end of the day, rocks don't burn. :-) And I will not be shocked to be told that the decision of the TN household will be worked into his interesting updates.

What's with the axe grinding over libertarianism?

1 - its not the 'affiliation' of the griders.
2 - Like the moral bankruptcy of the way Republicans and Democrats do things, so goes the Libertarians. Because the Libertarians are not in power, all the normal trickle of snark has to wait for FPP like this where one can see the cause-effect relationship or the moral bankruptcy.

Didn't catch the burn barrel part on the 1st pass of the story...nice touch!
posted by rough ashlar at 12:48 PM on October 4, 2010


I wonder what would happen if they had tried to put out the fire, and in the process a firefighter was injured. Who would cover the firefighter's medical expenses?
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:49 PM on October 4, 2010


AZ, it's not that he deserved it, it's that his house was outside of their jurisdiction. We had a church burn down near my house a couple of months ago; should the South Fulton FD have come up to fight THAT fire, too?

Would it be better if there were some sort of just-in-time option? Sure it would; I'm all in favor of that. Some kind of process whereby a lien could be entered against the insurance check or something. But the WORST option is that the South Fulton FD assumes the risk of fighting fires for free, can't cover their service area because the funding isn't there, and has to shut down.
posted by KathrynT at 12:49 PM on October 4, 2010


"Sorry. No matter what you do, we couldn't ever 100% trust you to pay."

Of course he can't pay. All his stuff is on fire.
posted by electroboy at 12:51 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


There is nothing to say to people who think he deserved it, except that there is a lot you deserve as well in somebody else's eyes, and hopefully that person will have more compassion than you.

He gambled, and he lost. Why am I a bad person for thinking that he was suffering the predictable consequences of his gambling?
posted by fatbird at 12:51 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Did you, like, read the article? Where he offered to pay whatever they asked and they wouldn't accept his money - to set an example to others?

On preview, what others have said. There's a liability issue here. What if firefighters get injured in the process and aren't covered etc.
posted by juv3nal at 12:52 PM on October 4, 2010


Sometimes, that whole Google panopticon can be interesting. The Cranics live on Buddy Jones Road, which looks to be pretty far outside of city limits, and within walking distance of the local Country Club. It's also nicely located near state lines. Gene and Mildred had a bankruptcy in 2006. It also seems Tim is recently divorced. I'm guessing she got the house, and he was living with his parents at the time.

Importantly, the guy who did the punching is distinct from the one who's property burnt down. I doubt Tim even knew his parents were opting out, and rightfully pissed at the wrong people.
posted by pwnguin at 12:54 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I just put the deposit on the floors for the place my wife and I just bought. Why didn't the flooring place just trust me?

Do you really, really not see the difference between "wanting new floors" and "having your house saved from fire"?

And it wasn't like they offered him some choice like "pay a deposit". They offered him no choice at all. Near as you can tell from the article, they offered him no way to get their service at all.

And... wow. Another person chiming in saying what a good idea this was.

:-o

:-(


> He gambled, and he lost. Why am I a bad person for thinking that he was suffering the predictable consequences of his gambling?

Because, as I pointed out this is a huge economic loss for everyone concerned compared to any other strategy, and because it's inhuman and evil to sit and watch someone's house burn if you could put it out (without undue risk of course but there's no evidence that this is the case so I have no idea why people are mentioning it).

If this sort of thing, people not paying their dues or people claiming to pay for fire services at the moment and then reneging, was actually an issue, if this happened all the time, or had even happened ONE time before, then "things would need to be done".

IF this was a problem. There's no evidence that this was in fact a problem. I found no evidence that anything so crazy had happened before. So you're letting this guy's house burn down just in case that sort of thing might be a problem in future.

(And all this liability stuff is garbage. Everywhere I've ever lived, firemen are absolutely shielded from liability in the performance of their duties. If the system is so broken that the laws force firemen to stand there and do nothing, you need to fix it.)

But when it comes down to it, you're standing watching some guy's house burn down to punish him for not paying a few hundred dollars - yes, clearly a "bad decision" but the punishment far, far exceeds the crime.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:03 PM on October 4, 2010


Just a few weeks ago I was designing a batch of tea party parody shirts

That was you? I love those. Full of win! Good job!
posted by Ratio at 1:05 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm curious. Is this only an American thing? Are there any non-Americans here who agree with this?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:05 PM on October 4, 2010


If this sort of thing, people not paying their dues or people claiming to pay for fire services at the moment and then reneging, was actually an issue, if this happened all the time, or had even happened ONE time before, then "things would need to be done".

IF this was a problem. There's no evidence that this was in fact a problem. I found no evidence that anything so crazy had happened before. So you're letting this guy's house burn down just in case that sort of thing might be a problem in future.


I refer you, again, to the PDF discussing the fire coverage situation in the county in question, in which it was pointed out that actual collections of levied fees were less than 50%. It's not even that it's EVER happened, it's that it happens more than half the time.
posted by KathrynT at 1:09 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's with the axe grinding over libertarianism? Was anybody in the story a libertarian? Maybe Cranick was just an unlucky cheapskate. Whatever his politics, he opted out of the system and learned what it gets him.

It's already been said, but it's not the affiliation of the players involved here, but the fact that this is a pretty straightforward example of the libertarian philosophy, and what the end result of that following that ideology leads to.

In this case, it shows that one guy opted out of herd immunity and put those around him at risk. He learned what it got him, but in doing so, it allowed a circumstance to exist where his neighbors could easily have been the ones to pay the price.

And thats why fire fighting shouldn't be case by case; fire can get out of control really quick and this story could have had a much, much darker ending than a single man being financially ruined.
posted by quin at 1:11 PM on October 4, 2010


Do you really, really not see the difference between "wanting new floors" and "having your house saved from fire"?

Yes, I do. Do you see that trusting someone to pay five figures for something just because he says he will is generally a bad idea?

And it wasn't like they offered him some choice like "pay a deposit". They offered him no choice at all. Near as you can tell from the article, they offered him no way to get their service at all.

As KathrynT has tirelessly demonstrated, and I've mentioned, it's just not as simple as you think it is. There are complicated legal issues over accepting the offer and collecting the payment. There are liability issues. There's the primary issue of the fire department continuing to operate when they're incurring (potentially great) expenses covering free riders, and concommitantly reducing services for those who actually pay.

:-o :-(

Would you mind doing us all a favour and not try to use your disgust as an argument?
posted by fatbird at 1:15 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


If they had a vote to make the fee a mandatory tax, I doubt it would have passed, unless it would have lowered the fee.
posted by smackfu at 1:15 PM on October 4, 2010


Where does the mandate to protect you from taking your own risks end? Surely your liver and lungs are more important to protect than your house, right? Should we continue to condemn people to stupid early deaths because we left loopholes in our bans on recreational carcinogens? STDs spread more easily than house fires; banning patterns of behavior that increase their rate of spread could save tens of thousands of lives a year in the US.

And absent "each individual decides", we need some collective way to decide what decisions count as "protection". We like to imagine objectively expert decisions, but what we're stuck with instead is majority vote, majority-selected representatives, and representative-selected experts. Some of you may have already noticed that "patterns of behavior that increase [STDs'] rate of spread" might be interpreted unpleasantly broadly in rural Tennessee (or in America as a whole, or in the world as a whole, for that matter). People who spend <1% of their waking lives in church live on average >5% longer... does everyone here want their risk of death minimized by the decisions of their countrymen? And likewise for every risk as serious as that of having to go back to renting?
posted by roystgnr at 1:16 PM on October 4, 2010


Ah, so this is a problem, and the solution is to do nothing about it, not to change the dysfunctional system in any way but to simply allow people's houses to burn down until they learn better. Got it!

There are a lot of places where firemen will simply save your house for free, and others where you need to pay them bribes, but I have to say, America's a unique and very sad place.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:21 PM on October 4, 2010


They offered him no choice at all.

It appears they offered him the choice to pay 75$ multiple times.

I do not think that you should be able to opt out of fire service, or police service, or roads. But if the law allows you to do so, if your neighbours *also* choose to live somewhere that people are allowed to do so, then that is the risk you are taking.

I think it's horrible for everyone, but I don't see many other less horrible endings to the story of not having required fire coverage for all.
posted by jeather at 1:24 PM on October 4, 2010


But when it comes down to it, you're standing watching some guy's house burn down to punish him for not paying a few hundred dollars - yes, clearly a "bad decision" but the punishment far, far exceeds the crime.

It's probably the ex-teacher in me remembering students upset over failing, but:

I'm not watching this guy's house burn down to punish him for not paying a few hundred dollars. He's watching his own house burn down because he didn't care enough about his things to pay $75/year to prevent his house from burning to the ground. The moral of this story is not about compassion, it's about personal responsibility.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:24 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hey, I and everyone else here think it should be changed. Fire safety is one of those things which, like police and EMS, should be available to everyone with no pre-authorization. The problem is, unless there are a lot of MeFites in South Fulton, KY, we don't really have the option of changing it. Where I live, fire department services are provided on a per-county basis as well as a per-city basis, and funded by taxes; that's one of the (many, many) reasons I live here and not in East Nowheresville, Kentucky.

Don't interpret my statements of "Yes, well, when this is the system you build, this is the system you get" as being any sort of endorsement.
posted by KathrynT at 1:25 PM on October 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


the solution is to do nothing about it, not to change the dysfunctional system in any way but to simply allow people's houses to burn down until they learn better

Nobody's saying that it's a good system, as far as I've read -- not those who think the firefighters did the right thing, nor those who think they should've put out the fire. I hope the county involved starts taxing residents to pay for such a basic and necessary service.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:26 PM on October 4, 2010


Ah, so this is a problem, and the solution is to do nothing about it, not to change the dysfunctional system in any way but to simply allow people's houses to burn down until they learn better. Got it!

The solution is for the county to pay part of the fire department's budget and in return receive full coverage for all residents, and to pay for that through a tax on all residents. This is a solved problem and there's no good reason for the residents of that county not to implement it.

In the absence of that solution, the solution is for individual residents to pay the subscription fee to ensure that they have coverage, or to accept that their house will burn down if it catches on fire.

It's not like this is an unpredictable consequence of the current situation, but for fuck's sake, there are multiple solutions available and within easy reach. The cost of covering the free riders is a serious and real problem for the fire department--you're just wrong that it's only a potential future problem, lupus.
posted by fatbird at 1:27 PM on October 4, 2010


If I was the neighbour I'd be suing the fire department for the damage to my field.


...it's that his house was outside of their jurisdiction

Far as I'm concerned, they adopted the duty. They answered the phone, and they drove down there with a fire truck. Maybe they're right, and they didn't have a contract, or someone hadn't paid their fee, but to watch the place burn on principle is inhuman. This isn't game theory camp, it's the real world, where people aren't rational actors, and forget, neglect, or refuse to pay their taxes, and where fires burn down fires and kill people regardless.
posted by doublehappy at 1:29 PM on October 4, 2010


Ah, so this is a problem, and the solution is to do nothing about it, not to change the dysfunctional system in any way but to simply allow people's houses to burn down until they learn better. Got it!

No, the solution is "Everyone who wants the fire department to come to their house pays $75/year."
posted by 23skidoo at 1:29 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


> Do you see that trusting someone to pay five figures for something just because he says he will is generally a bad idea?

There is a vast, huge difference between "purchasing consumer goods on credit" and "wanting the fire in one's house put out."

Consider: I have a medical emergency and walk into a hospital. They tell me that I have [condition] and it will cost five figures to fix, or I will die. I don't have health insurance, and they can't accept me signing a contract now (because I could extremely easily claim it was made under duress). So I die.

"Having your house burn down" is much closer to "having a sudden medical emergency" than it is to "buying consumer goods".

And it also isn't like your floor because the man offered to pay and was rejected. Again, your argument is that he shouldn't even be allowed to pay on site because he might conceivably try not to pay later.

Finally, the people you're dealing with aren't some store - it's the State - our benevolent rulers - aren't they actually supposed to, you know, trying to have your best interests at heart?


The fact that you compare some man literally begging people to put a fire out in his home to your purchase consumer goods is... well, it blows my mind frankly.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:30 PM on October 4, 2010


...where fires burn down houses...
posted by doublehappy at 1:31 PM on October 4, 2010


Doublehappy, the FD came out when the neighbor -- who had paid the access fee -- called and asked them to. Not when Cranick did.
posted by KathrynT at 1:33 PM on October 4, 2010


Yeah, I don't think anybody in this thread is saying that anything that happened was ideal. But at least for me, the blame lies squarely on the shoulder of Obion county voters and taxpayers.

I'm curious. Is this only an American thing? Are there any non-Americans here who agree with this?

I don't think Vancouver, BC has been annexed by the US yet, even if it does stand in for many US cities in TV shows.
posted by kmz at 1:33 PM on October 4, 2010


And it also isn't like your floor because the man offered to pay and was rejected. Again, your argument is that he shouldn't even be allowed to pay on site because he might conceivably try not to pay later.

No. No no no. This is not my argument. Try again. Reread my comments if you have to.

The fact that you compare some man literally begging people to put a fire out in his home to your purchase consumer goods is... well, it blows my mind frankly.

Well, the fact that you hold me in contempt is reason enough for me to abandon my line of thinking. I am well and truly corrected, sir.
posted by fatbird at 1:33 PM on October 4, 2010


> No, the solution is "Everyone who wants the fire department to come to their house pays $75/year."

Ha ha! I did, in fact, get that that was the idea. But your way of convincing them to do that is by having some of their houses burn down!

(And as someone pointed out above, the guy who was living there at the time isn't even the owner, his parents are, so it's quite conceivable that they senior-citizened it out, and he simply had no idea that this bill wasn't paid... but hey, they need to be shown the error of their ways...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:33 PM on October 4, 2010


it's the State - our benevolent rulers - aren't they actually supposed to, you know, trying to have your best interests at heart?

Yes, and protecting my best interests costs money, and I'm expected to (and happy to) pay for that protection. If I opt out of paying for that protection, why should I expect it?
posted by fatbird at 1:35 PM on October 4, 2010


Doublehappy, the FD came out when the neighbor -- who had paid the access fee -- called and asked them to. Not when Cranick did.

Far as I'm concerned, if you're sitting in a fire truck next door to a burning house, you've adopted the duty, if not in tort, then in basic human decency.
posted by doublehappy at 1:36 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I opt out of paying for that protection, why should I expect it?

Because you didn't choose to be born.
posted by doublehappy at 1:37 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cranky peoples sense of entitlement not being respected is the equivalent of slavery!
posted by Artw at 1:39 PM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Consider: I have a medical emergency and walk into a hospital. They tell me that I have [condition] and it will cost five figures to fix, or I will die. I don't have health insurance, and they can't accept me signing a contract now (because I could extremely easily claim it was made under duress). So I die.

Except that you don't, because they are required by law to treat you in an ER. They're not, however, required to do so for free. Nice try though.

I don't agree with the decision about paying a fee for fire protection, but this is a bad analogy that greatly misunderstands the nature of medical care (even in these effed up United States).
posted by sonika at 1:40 PM on October 4, 2010


Because you didn't choose to be born.

So the state (read: everyone else who's willing and able to pay money to support services) owes me the state's protection because I'm here unwillingly? Did the state somehow press-gang me into existence?
posted by fatbird at 1:41 PM on October 4, 2010


> No, the solution is "Everyone who wants the fire department to come to their house pays $75/year."

Ha ha! I did, in fact, get that that was the idea. But your way of convincing them to do that is by having some of their houses burn down!

What? No. There's a service, and it costs a certain amount. I don't see why the fire department has to "convince" anyone to spend money on their service at all.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:43 PM on October 4, 2010


This isn't about compassion. This guy put others at risk with his recklessness. It shouldn't have been his choice to make, but it was and he made the selfish choice.

It doesn't matter that he was willing to pay "any amount" once he needed the firefighter. I'll repeat: you don't pay for them to put out the fire. You pay for them to be available to put out the fire.

If you see gloating, it's because no one got physically hurt, and so this is a Teachable Moment for those pesky folks who think they're above needing public services and end up making those services less effective for the rest of us.
posted by Riki tiki at 1:47 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


>Finally, the people you're dealing with aren't some store - it's the State - our benevolent rulers - aren't they actually supposed to, you know, trying to have your best interests at heart?

The "State" here is a fire department from another city that offers to leave its jurisdiction (and thus, leave the city with less coverage) in order to respond to people who recognize that they need such coverage and pay for it yearly. The homeowner does not live within the territory of the fire department, and opted out of fire coverage.

If I were in the Queen of Everything, I would decree that fire protection would be provided for all, to be paid for by taxes. But I'm not the QoE, and some areas decide that they would rather not pay the taxes and just go without protection, like in Obion County. For who want to live in Obion County and still have fire protection, they can purchase it from a local city service for a small yearly fee. Mr. Cranick chose to live in Obion County and opted not to protect his property from fire. The "State's" inability to force this protection on Mr. Cranick does not make it "inhuman".
posted by kalanchoe at 1:52 PM on October 4, 2010


Nor is it inhuman. I would certainly rather have had the house burn down than to have a firefighter die or be injured in trying to put it out.

I don't think anyone here is saying that this is the way it ought to be. Clearly I think people shouldn't be able to opt out of fire protection. But given that he did, this isn't some huge failing on the firefighters part.
posted by Carillon at 1:52 PM on October 4, 2010


I don't see what the problem is. Everyone can have their way with just a bit of legal contract, and both libertarians and socialists and everybody in between can be happy.

Tax - you pay it. You also have the option of not paying it, but then you have to sign a contract. The contract says that we won't charge you the $75 tax/fee. But if so, we will not put out your fire, yet you will be liable for the cost of our department coming out to your place to watch it burn, because we have to prevent your fire from damaging the houses that paid the tax. Any damage to those houses will be charged to you. You're welcome.

You think that's a harsh system? Don't we have it already? If you drive an uninsured vehicle, and cause an accident damaging another vehicle in an accident, you don't get compensated for your vehicle (you have no insurance), but you are liable for damages to the other vehicle. Cranick couldn't have his house rescued by the FD - he didn't pay. But he should be liable for the cost of damage or rescuing the other house, since he caused the fire. Seems fair.

Or you, you know, solve these problems like civilized societies do - pay taxes. It's exactly the same thing with the universal health coverage, police protection and so on - we've gone through history, and found a better way - then we forgot those lessons. Going the way I described works, but it raises the costs for everyone, what with contracts and lawyers and lawsuits - but I guess it keeps everyone happy.
posted by VikingSword at 1:58 PM on October 4, 2010


Man, y'all are some mean-spirited, soulless motherfuckers. Maybe you could save Pedantic Training for when the fire is put out? There still has been no compelling reason the FD couldn't have done the "Okay, we'll bill you at cost and put out the fire", and hope they could recoup it. And if they don't, oh well, but I think it unlikely Cranick would be so stone cold as to not want to pay something when they saved his house.

Some people might stiff the FD after the fact, but most would at worst happily write that $75 check for the rest of their life, always remembering what a good fucking investment it is. People live by the anecdotes they like to tell, and I believe Cranick would have been a one-man fund raiser, telling anyone who would listen that the FD saved his house and dadgum if he's gonna miss another payment. Maybe he wouldn't, but I think most people would, even teapartiers. Teapartiers are after all dumb because they can't think in the abstract to understand the stupidity of their ideals- but I think the fire in your house is a wake up call for most people.

What I think you horrible, horrible, horrible people who deserve to die in a fire may be missing is that where the debate over the morality and repayment and source of city and county funding might rage for months... that fire is going to rage for maybe another couple of hours. It's a childish argument to make from the disconnected amorality of psychopathic Internetlandia with a built-in "run out the clock" strategy on one side that Cranick didn't have available to him. Imagine how much more silly it would all seem if in 3 months, realizing their error, the county makes the fees both mandatory and rolled into other taxes that are already collected such that Cranick can't even opt out- then a guy lost his house because politics is slow?

Cranick may or may not have been hoisted on his own petard, and the county has some responsibility to solve this as a larger issue... but that's no reason not to put out the fire now and then work on solving the problem as a general rule. The city/county/FD could put out the fire and then have months, even years, to work something out with Cranick in particular or changing the law/methods of funding in general. For those claiming that if they put out the fire, no one would pay are missing this as well: if 50% of the people already aren't paying the fee, and this is the first time this has come up as an issue, then the decent, ethical, moral thing to do is put out the fire and try use that as leverage to get the funding up with a "Look, would you rather Cranick's house burned?". It's not like the FD has been running around putting out blazes and has finally had enough.

As a cranky blowhard myself, I get the thanklessness of being liberal, of watching overgrown children bemoan gubmint and taxes... and then whine when those sources aren't there. There is a temptation to let these people suffer mightily for their flaws. However, that's a fantasy: the human being in me, the thing apparently a lot of you lack you Jeffrey Dahmer motherfuckers, is that you hopefully can use the danger averted as a teaching lesson. Unless you're a psychotic parent, you don't let your children be maimed or even die to "teach them a lesson". While I am not the parent of dumb red-staters and drooling teapartiers, I wouldn't want to see them have their houses burn, when someone watching their house get saved by the fire department might be equally changed in their conviction.
posted by hincandenza at 2:15 PM on October 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


I repeat: afaik, in BC local fire departments, volunteer or paid, *cannot* fight fires outside their jurisdiction due to liability. It would not surprise if this case is much the same.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:16 PM on October 4, 2010


Why does anyone assume that the guy would pay "whatever it takes" to put the fire out when he wouldn't bother to pay $75? Oh I'm sure he'd get the bill, somehow I doubt he'd actually put up the money for it though.

I'm amazed that the county doesn't just levy a tax to pay the city's FD for coverage, especially since they don't have their own VFD.
posted by Talanvor at 2:16 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I repeat: afaik, in BC local fire departments, volunteer or paid, *cannot* fight fires outside their jurisdiction due to liability. It would not surprise if this case is much the same.

Well, not according to the articles in the post. It's pay to play, and the decision here was at the discretion of the fire chief. There was nothing about jurisdictional lines.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:17 PM on October 4, 2010



Quoted for emphasis:

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

posted by JayG at 2:20 PM on October 4, 2010


This is exactly why Tea Baggers need to be given their own place to go and create their lovely experiment.

Not to go all federalist (she says, as she goes federalist), but weren't states supposed to be the experimental laboratories of democracy? Shouldn't a state be able to go entirely libertarian? Don't like taxes, Mr. Teabag? Move to Teabagistan, where no taxes are assessed, and no services are provided. Just don't expect the other states to pick up the slack.

I'd like this, mostly because then I'd move to Social Democratopia, and I would have my 45% tax rate and my beautiful panoply of state services.
posted by cereselle at 2:21 PM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


> I repeat: afaik, in BC local fire departments, volunteer or paid, *cannot* fight fires outside their jurisdiction due to liability.

In fact, fire departments in the US regularly respond to alarms and emergencies outside their normal jurisdictions.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:23 PM on October 4, 2010


Can I pay an extra $75 a year to not live next to a burned down house?
posted by fontophilic at 2:25 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sadly it has come to this. The right thing to do would've been to put out the fire once they were on the scene. The right thing to do would've been to pay the goddamn $75 when they asked Canick to share the cost of the department beyond the city limits, as a service, as offered to him and his neighbors. But it's very hard to do the right thing as an investment into the future in contrast to doing the right thing at the present. There were no winners at the fire, just a man who didn't know enough to pay $75 and a bunch of guys who didn't know enough to save face.
posted by jsavimbi at 2:29 PM on October 4, 2010


hincandenza, it's already been established that the firefighters would have gone in to save a life, so perhaps scale back the "die in a fire" and maimed child metaphors.

There still has been no compelling reason the FD couldn't have done the "Okay, we'll bill you at cost and put out the fire", and hope they could recoup it.

Actually, two very good reasons have been given: liability and personal risk to the firefighters. But that doesn't matter, because I will repeat a third time: you do not pay for firefighting, you pay for the availability of firefighting in case you need it. People who don't pay make that availability worse for the rest of us.

The immunization example is a great analogy, and I only spare the gloating in those cases because people actually get hurt. I don't spare them any of the cold analysis of the facts and I don't soften my words. Seriously.
posted by Riki tiki at 2:30 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Talanvor: Why does anyone assume that the guy would pay "whatever it takes" to put the fire out when he wouldn't bother to pay $75? Oh I'm sure he'd get the bill, somehow I doubt he'd actually put up the money for it though.

I'm amazed that the county doesn't just levy a tax to pay the city's FD for coverage, especially since they don't have their own VFD
Because the point some people are making is that it's well know how people are terrible calculators of odds and risk. I.e., $75 now seems way to much because of course my house isn't going to burn down... until your house is burning down, in which case it's the fucking deal of the century to have paid $75/year. I sincerely believe that had they put the fire out, Cranick would have paid some significant multiples of $75. That is to say, Cranick isn't against paying for services rendered, but that like many people he's bad at assessing the cost/benefit to insurance, in this case fire department insurance.

The problem is what you said in your second statement: I among many think it's insane that FD coverage should even be an a la carte expense: put it as part of the bundle of county taxes and everyone's covered whether they like it or not. It's people's tendency towards poor risk assessment that is why we typically socialize necessary services like police, fire departments, roads, and schools, as well as mandate insurance for cars, etc. At least, that's how civilized people do it, and it'd be better as noted above if we could have the teapartiers isolated to their own states.
posted by hincandenza at 2:32 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


mean-spirited, soulless motherfuckers... you horrible, horrible, horrible people... you Jeffrey Dahmer motherfuckers,

I really don't give a shit that you think I'm a terrible person. You know what I think you are? A sucker.

is that you hopefully can use the danger averted as a teaching lesson. Unless you're a psychotic parent, you don't let your children be maimed or even die to "teach them a lesson".

Cranick wasn't maimed or killed. He'll continue working or being retired or whatever, in reduced circumstances.

You want to see the object lesson in moral hazard in this case? Here it is, in Cranick's own fucking words:
"I thought they'd come out and put it out, even if you hadn't paid your $75, but I was wrong," said Gene Cranick.
This wasn't carelessness or a mistake or bad judgement of risks. Cranick thought that he didn't have to pay because people like you wouldn't let his house burn down. It's that simple.

I bet next year, a lot more county resident's pony up $75, though.
posted by fatbird at 2:40 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are a lot of places where firemen will simply save your house for free

Really?
posted by nickmark at 2:50 PM on October 4, 2010


What they need to do is put out the fire regardless of fee paid, and then - if you opted out of the annual subscription - you get dinged for the full cost of putting out your house fire.

Except that then the fire department has to pay someone to deal with billing. Perhaps they want to worry about fighting fires, not incurring debt on people...
posted by toekneebullard at 2:53 PM on October 4, 2010


I haven't seen anyone argue that the fire fighters weren't acting in a morally questionable way to stand there and watch a home burn. All the Jeffrey Dahmers here are just voicing a lack of sympathy for the guy who got burned (heh) because he thought participation in society was optional. In my little liberal left-coast enclave of a city we don't have fire fighters who refuse to put out fires because there is a prevailing attitude that this isn't what civilized people do, regardless of whether they're paying their fair share of taxes. I'm smirking because all of my experience in Redneckville, TN tells me this isn't the case there. How would they even allow people to opt out of fire fighting services if there weren't a whole lot of people there who scream and yell about every single oppressive county tax? This isn't about asshole fire fighters. This is about an entire society filled with assholes that is letting their representative government crumble around them.

Again, dude realizes he fucked up, dude's response is PUNCH SOMEONE IN THE FACE. Fire fighters tired of being underfunded and unappreciated while risking their lives let a house burn to the ground. This is what a failing state looks like and man am I glad I don't live in rural Tennessee.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 3:00 PM on October 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


but weren't states supposed to be the experimental laboratories of democracy? Shouldn't a state be able to go entirely libertarian?

Yes. But that vision has died a death of many legal papercuts.

Arguments over the 10th amendment, the 14th and prob. a few others have been part of the paper cuts. (remember that over 90% of criminal fed laws need the 10th amendment with the decision about the farmer who grew his own grain for his own use on his own farm never crossing his own property being key to keeping the power WRT interstate trade.)

And the State wouldn't have to be 100% Libertarian.....The free state project I bet has noodled out what %age gets 'em their paradise.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:05 PM on October 4, 2010


If the system is so broken that the laws force firemen to stand there and do nothing, you need to fix it.

I don't think anyone's disagreeing with this, but there's not a lot of time to enact legislative change while the guy's house is burning.
posted by juv3nal at 3:12 PM on October 4, 2010


It's probably the ex-teacher in me remembering students upset over failing, but:

I'm not watching this guy's house burn down to punish him for not paying a few hundred dollars. He's watching his own house burn down because he didn't care enough about his things to pay $75/year to prevent his house from burning to the ground. The moral of this story is not about compassion, it's about personal responsibility.


Heh, I thought of students, too--students who knew the policy about late papers/excessive absences/final portfolios/whatever, but were for some reason absolutely sure it didn't apply to them. Even what this guy said about, "I thought they'd put out a fire at my house even if I didn't pay" echoes my students perfectly.
posted by not that girl at 3:16 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


(And as someone pointed out above, the guy who was living there at the time isn't even the owner, his parents are, so it's quite conceivable that they senior-citizened it out, and he simply had no idea that this bill wasn't paid... but hey, they need to be shown the error of their ways...)

He made a comment indicating that he had known about the fee and hadn't paid it because he thought they'd put out fires for him even so.
posted by not that girl at 3:20 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone's disagreeing with this, but there's not a lot of time to enact legislative change while the guy's house is burning.

From the video in the second linked article (about 20 seconds from the end), this happened before in July 2008. So everyone isn't going to learn their lesson after this incident and start paying up. This will only get fixed when enough people realize that opt-in fire departments are a bad idea.
posted by Gary at 3:25 PM on October 4, 2010


The problem with paying for firefighting with a flat-fee, opt-in system as opposed to a general mandatory tax is this exact situation. This is the exact worst case scenario trotted out to explain why it's a bad idea - the firefighters will come out and watch someone's house and all their possessions burn to the ground, on the lookout in case the fire spreads to the land of someone who paid them.

The lesson to be drawn here is not one of balancing risk versus cost, or whether the firefighters should have billed for the full cost of the rescue, or anything like that. The lesson to be drawn here is don't fucking have an opt-in fire rescue system. Is our society really so blindingly ignorant that it needs to re-learn this?
posted by kafziel at 3:26 PM on October 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


There are a lot of places where firemen will simply save your house for free

I'm sure it's nice to think that, but someone, somewhere, somehow, pays for fire departments. Even volunteer fire departments need money for equipment, otherwise you just have people with buckets and garden hoses. So the guy basically got "free" fire department services anyway.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:36 PM on October 4, 2010




So there were 400 houses that chose to opt-out. If the fire department puts out Cranick's fire, that number goes up next year, as more people realize that Cranick's assumption is correct:

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

Now the fire department is faced with a reduced budget but still having to cover the same number of homes. You now still have to put out the fire in the next home that isn't covered because you've established a precedent. The subscription rates drop year over year and the opt-in service fee essentially becomes an optional donation. Given that many of the people live in the unincorporated areas in order to avoid paying taxes, you can count on a lot more people opting-out but still expecting to be covered, because Cranick was.

So now the city FD is faced with either reducing staff, deferring maintenance on equipment, or refusing service outside the city limit at all. By doing this, they had to face this situation once, rather than have it be a regular occurrence.
posted by mach at 3:39 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Now the fire department is faced with a reduced budget but still having to cover the same number of homes. You now still have to put out the fire in the next home that isn't covered because you've established a precedent. The subscription rates drop year over year and the opt-in service fee essentially becomes an optional donation. Given that many of the people live in the unincorporated areas in order to avoid paying taxes, you can count on a lot more people opting-out but still expecting to be covered, because Cranick was.

So now the city FD is faced with either reducing staff, deferring maintenance on equipment, or refusing service outside the city limit at all. By doing this, they had to face this situation once, rather than have it be a regular occurrence.


The solution is to drop the opt-in fee in favor of a mandatory property tax. You shouldn't need to be reminded of this.
posted by kafziel at 3:44 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The solution is to drop the opt-in fee in favor of a mandatory property tax. You shouldn't need to be reminded of this.

Mandatory property tax requires the assent of 400 people like Gene Crannick. Why do you think they'll vote for a measure that will mandate them to pay what they're not willing to pay voluntarily?

Seriously, do you think the idea of a mandated fee hasn't been brought up in that county?
posted by fatbird at 3:47 PM on October 4, 2010


The lesson to be drawn here is don't fucking have an opt-in fire rescue system. Is our society really so blindingly ignorant that it needs to re-learn this?

Large parts of our society would prefer to not pay taxes to government. I would imagine at some point in the past, the county government floated the idea of collecting a tax for fire services. Why they never decided that was the best option could be attributed to a number of factors, possibly even including apathy or resistance from county residents. That's not society; that's people. If you've ever lived in a rural area, you know that there are lots of people in those parts of America that don't want government interfering in their business. I don't know if that's why things are this way in Obion County, but raging against ignorant society is probably the least likely way to convince people that taxes and government can be a net good.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:47 PM on October 4, 2010


The solution is to drop the opt-in fee in favor of a mandatory property tax. You shouldn't need to be reminded of this.

Oh, I strongly agree. I'm just pointing out what I think the likely scenario would be given the current system. Apparently the city does not have the jurisdiction to enforce a tax on the people in the unincorporated area and the county does not yet have a plan in place.
posted by mach at 3:49 PM on October 4, 2010


The way to change the system is to vote in different people. If they keep electing the same sort of people to local government, why is it an injustice that the people of Obion County aren't getting services they don't want to vote for and don't want to pay for?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 3:53 PM on October 4, 2010


This is the exact worst case scenario trotted out to explain why it's a bad idea

The worst case scenario would be if he were someone who forgot to pay, or just moved in and didn't know the policy and lost his house because the cheapskate next door keeps voting down mandatory fire protection. But in this case, they phoned and he thought he had found a clever way to save $75.

Does he deserve to have his home burned down because of his stupidity? Probably not. The video says the fire started in the back, burnt down the shed and spread to the house. There was plenty of damage to be done to teach him a lesson without letting his whole house go down.

On the other hand, if I were the guy who had to phone every home in the county reminding them about coverage only to be told they shouldn't have to pay for my job, I would have gone and taken pictures.
posted by Gary at 4:07 PM on October 4, 2010


Heh, I thought of students, too

Yeah, me too. It's really not any fun when a student comes to your office to beg for a passing grade in Intro to American Politics because if they fail one more class they'll lose their visa.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:34 PM on October 4, 2010


That's not society; that's people. If you've ever lived in a rural area, you know that there are lots of people in those parts of America that don't want government interfering in their business.

"Sir, your house is on fire."
"DON'T INTERFERE WITH MY BUSINESS!"
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:34 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


So there were 400 houses that chose to opt-out.

Perhaps they are metal or stone. I've provided a stone home, now a metal one.
A home my Grandpa would make no-corner to pee in jokes about.

Cuz its round.

One can cut their fire risks.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:41 PM on October 4, 2010


In fact, fire departments in the US regularly respond to alarms and emergencies outside their normal jurisdictions.

Huh. Now I'm going to have do some checking around. I could swear that where I live, we had a case very much like this one, and because the home was just on the other side of the district line, all they did was watch.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:01 PM on October 4, 2010


This isn't about asshole fire fighters. This is about an entire society filled with assholes that is letting their representative government crumble around them.

So many problems in our society come down to this. People with an astounding sense of entitlement, yet wholly unwilling to share in the costs, to the detriment of all.

I think our society will ultimately fail because of it.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:08 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


garyp asked: "Does he deserve to have his home burned down because of his stupidity? Probably not."

If he didn't pay his property taxes, the county would take his home away from him. He was given the choice. He lost his home. The only difference is that nobody else got to buy the home later, so that portion of humanity's productive endeavor was lost.
posted by straw at 5:21 PM on October 4, 2010


There are a lot of people who would struggle to come up with $75 even for something like this. Of course your house could catch on fire and you'd lose a lot more than $75, but if you haven't been through that before and you're living day-to-day, paycheck to paycheck, then I can see it being put off. I know I'd struggle to come up with it during any given month.

It reminds me of the time I was listening to the Dennis Prager radio show (he's a staunch conservative) the month after Hurricane Katrina, and he was very skeptical that people couldn't come up with the $50 for a Greyhound ticket out of town. But Katrina hit at the end of the month, and it struck me that I wouldn't be able to come up with the money either and might very well try to ride it out. A house fire, a hurricane, these possibilities may pale in comparison to the prospect of having your gas shut off tomorrow or not being able to pay for your kid's day care today. This is not just a problem for the poor. It effects the working class, lower middle class, and even a middle class family in this economy.
posted by Danila at 5:22 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the article: South Fulton’s fire chief was assaulted Wednesday in the aftermath of a fire where firefighters were unable to respond because the property owner had not paid a rural fire subscription fee.

Well, that's not quite right. They chose not to respond. They might have had very good reasons for their decision, but this phrasing implies that they were at the mercy of events beyond their control - when in fact they were able to respond and chose not to.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:22 PM on October 4, 2010


MrLint: "Indeed this is stupid. However, let me give you the contrary, I have a friend who has a cabin, who has to pay town taxes this cabin is on a peninsula with no roads to it. You can hike or get there by boat. If there were a fire, there is no way to 1) call anyone 2) get out there to put the fire out short of a helicopter.

The town provides no services useful to him other than the roads
"

One would assume that your friend could still make use of the services of the police, courts, library, city parks, land registry, local schools, rec facilities like pools, zoning and land use planning, flood control, health inspections, etc ad nauseum. IE: Fire protection is but one small bit of functioning municipal government.

rough ashlar writes "Perhaps they are metal or stone. I've provided a stone home, now a metal one."A home my Grandpa would make no-corner to pee in jokes about."Cuz its round. "One can cut their fire risks."

Everything in that house non flammable too? Just because the walls won't burn doesn't mean you are immune to fire. And that is without even considering stuff like grass fires, car fires and accidents, heating gas/oil fires. Or even auxiliary services like search and rescue.

It's interesting to me too that the fire started in a burning barrel. Open fires like that are a horrible way to get rid of waste as open fires have heavy particulate loads and don't control toxic particulates generated by burning stuff like plastic.
posted by Mitheral at 6:06 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Evil, evil, evil. How would any country be improved by adopting this, "you're on your own" attitude?
posted by agregoli at 6:28 PM on October 4, 2010


Gene Cranick was just interviewed on Olbermann. He said everything was lost in the fire, including 3 dogs and a cat. He said that he wasn't refusing to pay the fee, he had forgotten. He said he knows people think you wouldn't forget about something like that, but he did.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:35 PM on October 4, 2010


If he didn't pay his property taxes, the county would take his home away from him. He was given the choice. He lost his home. The only difference is that nobody else got to buy the home later, so that portion of humanity's productive endeavor was lost.

Yeah, but I can see the side of saving his house and having the city go after him for the cost later. If not for decency's sake, then because a homeless old couple can be a drain on tax dollars too.
posted by Gary at 6:37 PM on October 4, 2010


$75, same as in town...
posted by mizjana2u at 6:45 PM on October 4, 2010


He said that he wasn't refusing to pay the fee, he had forgotten. He said he knows people think you wouldn't forget about something like that, but he did.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:35 PM on October 4

I could be wrong, but reading between the lines it seems there is an open enrollment period (the month of July), and that is when they contact you by mail and by phone. If you don't pay the fee in July, I don't think they bother you until the next July.

And I'm upset about the dogs and the cat. I think it was inhumane to stand and watch that fire burn if you are capable of putting it out. I don't care about teaching him a lesson, or the other non-payers. I don't care and I'm sick of people thinking they have the moral authority to teach other people a lesson.
posted by Danila at 6:48 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The inimitable Mr Pratchett has already predicted the outcome of this.

In Guards! Guards!, he mentions that the Ankh Morpork Guild of Firefighters was disbanded because they were paid by the fire, and therefore developed the tendency to stand around peoples houses saying things like "looks like a very inflamable house there, it'd be shame if something happened to it".
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:55 PM on October 4, 2010


including 3 dogs and a cat.

Oh, just property then.

grrr...
posted by mediareport at 7:22 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]



There are a lot of people who would struggle to come up with $75 even for something like this.


Which is why people are generally taxed a percentage of their income or a percentage of the worth of their home. Add that to the list of advantages to taxes: you don't pay for the actual cost of the services you use, you pay what you can afford.

Also, you don't "forget" to pay for certain services you may need down the road.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:24 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


They chose not to respond.

No, they were following a city ordinance not to respond: an ordinance established by the people who have authority over their department, who in turn were elected by the people whose taxes pay for it. You can't pretend that they had completely free agency here.

County-line arbitrage happens everywhere, because of the perceived tax savings of being on the unincorporated side of the city limit, and while the tangible costs (trash, winter road clearance, public transit) often don't add up to the tax differential, the intangible costs may well do so.

The question of whether selective, subscription-based fire brigade service is the optimal choice for modern society was pretty much resolved a century ago, but that doesn't stop people from pretending otherwise.
posted by holgate at 7:39 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'll bet his cable TV was paid without anyone having to call his house and mail him multiple times.
posted by Daddy-O at 8:03 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Like the time I tried to get hurricane insurance because there was a hurricane headed our way, and the polite folks at Allstate told me I had to wait two weeks (or thirty days, I forget what).

I wonder what the waiting period is in Obion for fire coverage?

Classic free rider problem. Most of you people would suck at managing an insurance company.
posted by etherist at 8:03 PM on October 4, 2010


If we managed our society better, we wouldn't have to manage insurance companies well at all.
posted by yesster at 8:22 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The county council should have made the 75$/year payment to the city coffers mandatory if they were too damn stupid to start their own country FD. Problem solved, no burnt-down house.

But logic and people don't get along very well. Especially when Teabaggers are running around screaming that any tax dollars spent for any reason ever is Communo-Islamo-Fascism.

I hate to say it, but I take some glee in this. Assholes get what they pay for. And Rand-tards should move to Somalia starting tomorrow. No taxes there, I hear.
posted by bardic at 8:42 PM on October 4, 2010


First up: Here is a picture of some of the S. Fulton fire departments equipment - they have 2 engines, one tanker, a brush unit & a control vehicle. That's it. Two of units in the picture look ooooolllld. Ancient. And this is a small town: population: 2,391. And not very wealthy: average household income is just over 32 000.

Second: and this is for folks not terribly familiar with the distinction between living in a municipal (ie town or city) area and living in a county area: there are major differences in the US. In town: you have taxes for all sorts of services, like fire and a library. These people are similar to most of the folks on metafilter, with access to the internet and a desire for some form of a social existence with other humans, in some sort of local community, and a willingness to pay for these sorts of things.

Out in the county in America is where the truly rural live - this will be a number of folks spread out over a great distance (for providing services) of often limited means and little in common. For example farmers will be lumped in with folks who have escaped "high" city taxes.
posted by zenon at 8:53 PM on October 4, 2010


[few comments removed - ease off the "die in a fire" talk or take it to metatalk please.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:27 PM on October 4, 2010


You know what I think you are? A sucker.

Yes, I think this forms the basis of a lot of people's politics. If there is a chance that one person out there is making a sucker of me, then I will cut off everyone who might be that person from any largess that proceeds from my pocketbook. Hence, everyone on welfare is lazy and taking advantage of me, a hardworking guy and welfare must be stopped. Everyone who is bankrupt has failed to do the right thing like I have and wants a free ride on my dollar, so bankruptcy must be stopped. Everyone who is sick and can't afford care wasn't as clever as I was to maneuver themselves into having enough resources, so my taxes should not go to support their care. No one is really in need that didn't screw up their own life.

This is a convenient mindset if your life's goal is to keep as many of your dollars as you can without regard for anyone else. It is also born of an illusion that each one of is master of our destiny, and that our good fortune is solely our own doing and stems from our inherent superiority over those less fortunate. It is a mean-spirited philosophy and must endure a lifetime of assaults by reality on that illusion.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:30 PM on October 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


fatbird: He gambled, and he lost. Why am I a bad person for thinking that he was suffering the predictable consequences of his gambling?

For some reason, you don't connect being a bad person with feeling satisfied at the misfortune of others. The guy made a mistake, but it's not like he took his last thousand bucks to Vegas and bet it on black.
posted by notion at 9:43 PM on October 4, 2010


People were pointing out upthread that they respond if there is someone trapped in a house fire where the fee has not been paid but I am still left wondering what their dispatch protocol is. I mean, calls come in reporting a structural fire and it is not always going to be the homeowner calling it in, who can state with certainty that there is no one inside trapped.

I am thinking they have to dispatch and if you have rolled the apparatus and personnel have responded to the scene a Chief or Officer must do a size-up and ascertain if anyone is believed inside and while they are doing that it would make sense to stretch a line and get a crew ready to conduct a search in case someone is inside.

So then what? Chief advises no one inside, roll the hose, everyone pack up, let's watch this thing burn? Complete and utter madness. I do not have the words.
posted by mlis at 9:49 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


five fresh fish I repeat: afaik, in BC local fire departments, volunteer or paid, *cannot* fight fires outside their jurisdiction due to liability. It would not surprise if this case is much the same.

fff, that may be the case with some departments, if they have not signed mutual aid agreements with neighboring FD's. Mutual aid agreements are common in the US.

I did find the Quesnel B.C. Volunteer FD whose policy is:

"The QVFD assists with fire suppression in the larger Quesnel and District area, as required, under mutual aid agreements that are in place with the West Fraser, Bouchie Lake, Barlow Creek, Kersley and Ten Mile Fire Departments."
posted by mlis at 10:03 PM on October 4, 2010


You know what I think you are? A sucker.
Yes, I think this forms the basis of a lot of people's politics.


Yeah, not really. I made the original comment, and I'm quite happy to pay taxes for welfare and health care for the uninsured and excessive funding of inner-city schools.

Being left wing doesn't make me deaf to how such things actually get paid for and who should foot the bill. Can't afford the subscription fee? The county should pick up the tab. Don't want to pay because "I thought they'd come out and put it out, even if you hadn't paid your $75"? Screw you. Free riders soak up dollars that could be helping those who actually need it.

The guy made a mistake, but it's not like he took his last thousand bucks to Vegas and bet it on black.

Actually, that's very much what he did. He saved $75 by not paying the subscription fee, at risk of his house burning down and the fire department watching.

Mutual aid agreements are common in the US.

There was a thread here a while ago about a township in Michigan, I believe, that formed mutual aid agreements with the surrounding townships, and then basically eliminated its own fire department, counting on the aid agreements to cover what it wasn't willing to pay for. When a string of arsons starting burning down whole blocks, the other departments eventually cut them off, recognizing that they were being played for suckers, and justly so.
posted by fatbird at 10:16 PM on October 4, 2010


There are also close-rural areas here with volunteer FDs, and there's a reserve that may or may not be choosing to participate. If I'm correct in remembering the case, it did create a higher level of cooperation among the several local and volunteer departments.

It's a real mess when small interests compete on these modern essentials.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:39 PM on October 4, 2010


There still has been no compelling reason the FD couldn't have done the "Okay, we'll bill you at cost and put out the fire", and hope they could recoup it. And if they don't, oh well, but I think it unlikely Cranick would be so stone cold as to not want to pay something when they saved his house.

From the pdf that zenon and the extremely patient KathrynT linked to, five of the eight municipal departments that provide rural coverage do not charge a subscription fee for rural responses, but do charge $500 for a call. But collections are less than 50%. In addition, rural structure fires make up 75% of all structure fires in the county. Rural fires make up most of the fires, but rural households don't pay, on average, when they need fire service. As an aside, of the three departments that charge subscription fees, two, including South Fulton, will not respond to non-fee payers, and one department might respond.

The county passed a resolution in 1987 establishing a fire department, which was never funded and does not exist. That pdf, from 2008, addresses the need for fire service, and outlines various methods of funding. The county clearly recognizes the need, but can't force the voters' hands.

The Cranicks of Obion County have collectively decided that they don't want to pay for fire service, but want their fires put out by the municipal departments on the municipal tax payer's dime. Yeah, it sucks that Cranick lost his home. But I can see why South Fulton isn't interested in responding to those who don't pay.
posted by 6550 at 10:44 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


...something something something about this a classic case of something: the free rider problem, market failure, social darwinism... yeah, okay, so maybe you're all right in the abstract, but these things don't happen in the abstract. I'd like to think that, if my house was on fire, people nearby (with a truck full of water) would help me out and fuck the rules. It's not about a sense of entitlement, it's about making a society where people don't die or lose their shit for failure to $75 for protection that should be a basic right of citizenship.
posted by doublehappy at 11:22 PM on October 4, 2010


Ok, so maybe it is a sense of entitlement. You're damn right I feel entitled to protection from fire. We'll sort the rest out later.
posted by doublehappy at 11:24 PM on October 4, 2010


"It's not about a sense of entitlement"

It's absolutely about a sense of entitlement. In your hypothetical you a) didn't pay 75 measly bucks to protect your home and b) you expect tax-payers in the next municipality over to pay for your mistake.

How more "entitled" could you be? Not doing the basics to protect yourself, then expecting other tax-payers to foot your bill?
posted by bardic at 11:58 PM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


A lot of people don't really seem to get that the $75 isn't the fee to have a fire put out, but rather chipping in your small portion of helping the fire department to stay solvent. This isn't exactly a rich area, and while it's hard to believe that anyone who owns a house can't afford six bucks a month for fire payments, given the cost of actually putting a fire out, it's easy enough to believe that the fire company in question does really need the money.

As much as it makes my liberal heart bleed to say it, I can't really feel bad for the guy who didn't pay his part and then discovered that when they said "if you pay $75 a year, you get coverage" they actually meant it. It's not like nobody here's pointed out that helping him out anyway (in order to protect his property from a fire that he started by being stupid) is a great way for the fire company to go bankrupt when people discover they don't have to pay anymore if they don't feel like it.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:22 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hard core shitnozzling going on in that town.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:42 AM on October


Shitnozzling is my new favourite word, and, according to Google it is an entirely new word! Congratulations! You, sir, are a genius.
posted by Joe Chip at 2:20 AM on October 5, 2010


"It's not about a sense of entitlement"

It is and it isn't. I'm saying, as a person, standing there with the guy as his house burns down, with the keys to the firetruck in my pocket, I'm gonna be doing my best to put out the fire.

I'm saying, as a person, I don't give a shit if you're not paying your share, you're entitled to any protection the state can offer. Otherwise, you'd better believe I'd be out there with my golf clubs bashing up hobos or hanging outside kindergartens waiting for kids, none of whom pay their share, but all of whom currently qualify for state protection from battery and rape, for example.

It's an interesting society where soldiers and police shoot first, and ask questions later, while firefighters get out the city charter instead of a hose.
posted by doublehappy at 2:36 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is another one of those bullseyes that's right on some kind of line. Nobody is a sympathetic character. Everything and everyone involved in the matter is detestable. I feel like I need a good wash after reading about it. Christ.
posted by tehloki at 4:23 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think this situation is all that different from a McMansion being built in California or Arizona in an area known for wildfires.

Yes, within reason, public services should try and protect the houses. But if you knowingly build in an area that doesn't have access to water pumps or a viable fire department, there are limits to what local neighboring public services should have to do.

Forgoing a very minor annual charge in order to build somewhere where you don't have to pay dreaded "city taxes" (obviously, this was about as small as a city can get) and then continuing to live in an area with no fire department doesn't seem that much different to me.

And if they're obligated to save lives but nothing else, yeah, that seems pretty fair to me all around.
posted by bardic at 4:25 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


What if, as a taxpaying resident of South Fulton, your house catches on fire and the local fire department, due to budget cuts from having to put out fires at a loss outside of the municipality, is unable to put it out? I imagine that you would be pretty mad every time the fire department rushes to put out a fire for someone who refused to pay (assuming there were provisions for the indigent and others unable to pay).

Ultimately, while the fire department may have a duty to put out all fires full stop, they have a more pressing duty to put out what fires they can given limited resources. That involves collecting fees from those not taxed to receive that service. If the residents of the county want a fire service that is guaranteed to protect them, they are going to have to pay for it, either in taxes or fees. Until then, South Fulton has to make hard decisions on behalf of its taxpayers and the other fee-paying residents in the county.
posted by armage at 4:27 AM on October 5, 2010


Those faulting the fire department might want to consider the tactical situation on the fireground once there were personnel on the scene. The Cranick house was on fire for quite a while before the FD showed to protect the neighbor's property, and was probably fully involved with fire. Absent an immediate life hazard, and with the difficulty of establishing a water supply (assuming the area is un-hydranted), the proper tactical decision from the incident commander was to conduct defensive operations, such as protecting neighboring exposures. In my part of Maryland one of the urban/suburban county fire departments will not conduct interior operations for the sole purpose of saving property. I would be surprised if aggressive operations could have saved anything by that point anyway. If the homeowners had paid the fee things might have been different, but if it was a long run outside of the FD's first due there is guarantee that anything could have been saved. This situation was awful for everyone involved, but for $75 they might have saved something.

And to put things in perspective for some readers, maybe 20 years or so back (around 1990) we sold one of our 1964 pumpers to a rural FD, where it remained in front-line service until this year. That piece of apparatus has a two-man cab, and most jurisdictions now prohibit firemen from riding the back step, which does not leave you with NFPA-recommended staffing for a primary suppression piece, so you need another way to get people to the fire. The cost of outfitting a fire department is very high. A new fire engine is going to cost you $350,000 to $400,000, but you can get good deals on used equipment of you're careful and your call volume is low. Turnout gear, SCBA, and a facepiece for one fireman can run $3,000 to $4,000, even buying used when you can. Fuel is not free. Training is expensive. Radios are costly. You get the idea. An annual fee of $75 asked of people who do not live in the city, and therefore do not support the fire department through taxes, is quite reasonable.
posted by wintermind at 6:52 AM on October 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


The fire protection fee costs the same as one cigarette per day?

No one could possibly afford that.
posted by etherist at 6:53 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Up until the early 1970s in San Antonio, TX there was only a private enterprise, Don's Ambulance Service, to respond to medical emergencies like car accidents. People suffered and even died as a result of this lack of service. So what did the city do? Taxpayer funded EMS. Problem solved with socialism.

Also, if the fire slowly spread from the fire barrels to the shed to the house, why didn't the homeowner get the dogs and cat out of the house? Puzzling.
posted by Daddy-O at 7:04 AM on October 5, 2010


Looks like he paid $463 in property taxes on his 9-acre ranch and home last year. Would $75 be a significant increase in his tax burden? I don't know, you'd have to ask him.

His property tax rate is 2%, on a capped value of $23,125 (although "market value" is $92,500 per the tax assessor)

Careful - when you wish for small government, sometimes you get what you ask for.
posted by etherist at 8:01 AM on October 5, 2010


A lot of people don't really seem to get that the $75 isn't the fee to have a fire put out, but rather chipping in your small portion of helping the fire department to stay solvent.

No, I think most of us "get it". We just think it's a silly way to fund a public service. My liberal heart ain't bleeding for the homeowner who refused to pay - it's bleeding for the tenant who's now homeless.
posted by muddgirl at 8:14 AM on October 5, 2010


Or even temporarily homeless. I can't imagine how much it would suck to lose everything in a fire - even if that fire is my own doing. I'm a pretty thoughtless and clumsy person; I'm just lucky that my own carelessness hasn't ruined my life yet.
posted by muddgirl at 8:15 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, if the fire slowly spread from the fire barrels to the shed to the house, why didn't the homeowner get the dogs and cat out of the house? Puzzling.

Yeah, in the first video they kept emphasizing how it took hours for the fire to reach the house. There's something really fishy about that.

In the Olberman video he mentions how they had a fire in his son's house three years ago and the fire chief waived the fee until the next day. So there goes the theory that he would learn his lesson if the fire department showed some mercy. After the first round of articles, I don't believe for a second that he forgot. He thinks it's a $75 house saving fee, not a contribution for the public good.
posted by Gary at 9:13 AM on October 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


Man, this whole story gets more and more confusing.
posted by muddgirl at 9:21 AM on October 5, 2010


Thanks for the followup, Gary. It really does make it sound as though this guy is just an out-and-out freeloader, and the fire department learned that their leniency with him the first time didn't produce a change of heart.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:57 AM on October 5, 2010


Yes, I think this forms the basis of a lot of people's politics.

Yeah, not really. I made the original comment, and I'm quite happy to pay taxes for welfare and health care for the uninsured and excessive funding of inner-city schools.


I didn't mean to imply that this anxiety about becoming a "sucker" formed the basis of your politics, fatbird, but I do believe it forms the basis of many of the Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck/Bill O'Reilly brigade. I personally know folks of that stripe who will say so explicitly. This is why they gravitate so readily to the "welfare queen" canards and want to blame homebuyers for the economic meltdown. The truth of the matter is, to be a benevolent and generous person means occasionally being played for a sucker. It's a risk we must take on when we decide to take the high road in life.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:12 AM on October 5, 2010


The truth of the matter is, to be a benevolent and generous person means occasionally being played for a sucker. It's a risk we must take on when we decide to take the high road in life.

I agree with this in general, just not in this case. Crannick and his fellow residents repeatedly chose to absent themselves from the basic social contract for fire protection. In 2002 the county voted against a poll measure to provide county-wide fire services. Three years ago, Crannick's son set a fire in their house and the fire chief let Crannick pay the $75 the next day, understanding that Crannick would see the value in the subscription fee. Instead, Crannick took the wrong lesson, which is that he didn't have to pay at all.

At every turn, Crannick consciously chose to be a free rider. Being a sucker for reasons of caution about helping the truly needy doesn't mean you accept being a sucker all the time.
posted by fatbird at 10:22 AM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


He said everything was lost in the fire, including 3 dogs and a cat.

So they let the animals burn to death to prove their point? Fucking assholes.
posted by homunculus at 11:14 AM on October 5, 2010


Do we know that they were informed that there were animals inside? Cranick had hours between when the fire got out of control and when it spread to the house; why didn't he remove the animals himself?
posted by KathrynT at 11:23 AM on October 5, 2010


Gary wrote: "Yeah, in the first video they kept emphasizing how it took hours for the fire to reach the house. There's something really fishy about that."

Not really fishy..it goes like this: Person throws a bunch of trash in a barrel and lights it on fire. Unattended burn barrel allows trash fire to become grass fire. Grass fire can't be put out with the garden hose, so it continues burning towards the house. Eventually, the grass fire lights the side of the house on fire, and the rest is what you see on video.

This is why, if you burn trash, you a) don't burn except on very calm days, b) keep a hose and bucket full of water handy, and c) never leave your burning trash unattended

Also, it helps if you have city water. Most residential well pumps don't put out that much water pressure when being used continuously, so if you can't get it put out in the first 10 or 20 gallons, you may find yourself unable to keep up a high enough flow to stop the spread of the fire.

Another thing that helps is to thoroughly clean up any leaves or other dry organic matter and soak the area around your burn barrel before burning. Dry, dead, or dying grass will ignite much more easily than you think. Live wet grass will ignite much less easily than you think.

(can you tell I'm from Arkansas?)
posted by wierdo at 11:30 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not really fishy..it goes like this: Person throws a bunch of trash in a barrel and lights it on fire.

I understand the fire. I meant it was fishy no one bothered to get the pets out if the fire was taking hours to spread. Or that no one mentioned the pets to the first round of reporters. I'm trying to be charitable and assume that the pets were a lie. All the alternatives start making everyone involved look evil.
posted by Gary at 11:52 AM on October 5, 2010


Oh, yeah, that is odd how the pets appear to be some sort of afterthought.
posted by wierdo at 12:31 PM on October 5, 2010


that is odd how the pets appear to be some sort of afterthought.

Hate to say it, but that sounds exactly like rural communities (and definitely the rural South) where they're not exactly treasured companions and integral family members. Drive into the sticks, and you'll see cats and dogs wandering the roadside (or as roadkill): if kitty gets squished or killed by a coyote or vanishes, then you just get another one, because spay-and-neuter isn't so big there either.
posted by holgate at 1:08 PM on October 5, 2010


"His property tax rate is 2%, on a capped value of $23,125 (although "market value" is $92,500 per the tax assessor)"

Hmm, price of stuff has gone up ~400% and the county's revenue hasn't. I have a theory on the root of the problem.
posted by Mitheral at 1:40 PM on October 5, 2010


Here's an even bigger case of GRAR!! Public defence attorneys now cost the bucks.

If you're poor in the USA, you have no rights.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:43 PM on October 5, 2010


I've only made it thru about half of the comments so far but. WTF?! Is there a biography of this guy some where on the internet I missed? How do all these people know that Mr. Cranick is this ultra conservative pseudo libertarian ass hole? How do you know he isn't poor and possibly not well educated? How do you know he moved out to the rural area to avoid taxes? How do you know he hasn't lived on that property all his life because he can't afford to move?

I'm sorry but I don't see how you can be smug an happy about the punishment of having your home destroyed (your fucking home, a house that most of us couldn't afford without slowly buying from a bank over 2 or 3 decades, the place you sleep and eat and live.) as an object lesson of why fire protection services are valuable.

I'm sorry this guy lives in a shitty county that hasn't figured out how to implement proper fire protection services. Also I have no sympathy for the fire chief who got decked. You're a fireman, you fucking put out fires. It's up to the bureaucrats to figure out how to pay for it. I'm sorry but you do what is right, I don't believe any of the firemen in my family or others I know would have stood by and watched that burn.
posted by MrBobaFett at 6:38 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jesus fucking Christ. If there were a kid trapped in that home, would the attitude have been the same? I'm serious, I have no idea, given the callous indifference on display here. Is human life sufficient for these assholes not to punish a homeowner for neglecting to buy insurance? Is it just property they don't care about? Would they have invoiced for rescuing the kid? Or just let her burn up as an example to all those other cheapskate homeowners out there?

And why the hell don't they just charge more - like even $10,000 - if it's a purchase without having bought the insurance? I mean, there's free-market price-gouging and then there's just pure evil. This is the latter.
posted by Dasein at 7:04 PM on October 5, 2010


Way to judge people's comments without reading them, Dasein.
posted by juv3nal at 7:20 PM on October 5, 2010


Of course they say that, now, after the fact, with all this attention on them. But the fact remains that these assholes stood there, firefighting equipment primed and ready, and watched the house burn to nothing, because they wanted to send the message that you have to pay your protection.

The inhumanly callous don't get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to hypothetical compassion.
posted by kafziel at 8:01 PM on October 5, 2010


I just don't know how to feel when dozens of people are apparently arguing that someone should get free fire department service, especially when it is a chronically underfunded fire company covering an area that it was not meant for, and for people who are not paying for the service.

Let's just get everything straight, here, from what we've seen here.

1. The fire company has been established several times now as placing top priority on saving lives, and it sounds like they'd do so even for someone who hadn't paid up. His house was well on fire by the time they got there, and as pointed out above by an actual firefighter, top priority goes to saving people, not property, even if that means watching the fire burn itself out while making sure it doesn't spread.

2. The house owner in question opted not to keep up his end of the bargain by paying a trivial annual sum (as pointed out just above, the price of one cigarette per day) to have fire coverage. Arguing that he should have gotten it anyway because it should be free in the land of magical unicorns and rainbow where it isn't a multiple-thousand-dollar operation to put out a fire sound like arguments that students should never get Fs because, hey, it might scar them or prevent them from going to a university of choice or landing a job or it might make them sad, even though they only showed up for the first class and the final exam. Personal responsibility issue, especially because this is a part of the US where the citizens had actively chosen not to make a fire department a public service. No "should" involved, because, sure, they should be a public service, along with schools and doctors. However, this is America.

3. It's apparently been demonstrated that Cranick has also played the fire department for saps, having previously treated the $75 annual charge as a fee to have his fire put out, not as an investment in a public good, by paying previously after he'd made use of their service. When it turned out that he opted not to pay again, it seems to me like he'd discovered that he'd found a way to steal for free until having to pay retail price when he gets caught. That's no way to run a railway, that's no way to run a supermarket, and it's no way to run a fire company that, as I have mentioned, is not a public service due to the express wishes of the citizens of the county.

4. Let me repeat, for fear of beating a long-dead horse, that this fire company is not rich by any means. Others have pointed out that it is minimally equipped with decades-old equipment that can't hold nearly enough water to put out a big fire. They'd already been summoned to help his paying neighbor who had actually paid his share to help them not struggle to keep afloat. He'd already got their services for essentially free, and it sounds like they were willing to make an example of him to prevent people from abusing the system and reducing their funding yet further.

5. Nobody's calling anyone a Libertarian here, merely pointing out that Libertarian notions of privatizing all public services and basically reducing government sound great until you suddenly need one of them. Many libertarians, it would seem, may suddenly become socialists when bad luck hits.

tl;dr All signs point to "Student sleeps in class daily, gets F, blames teacher, internet sides with student."
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:24 PM on October 5, 2010 [13 favorites]


Of course they say that, now, after the fact, with all this attention on them.

I don't know what kind of world you live in where the reasonable conclusion to draw is that fire departments would routinely let people burn to death over $75, but I'm glad it's not mine.
posted by juv3nal at 9:49 PM on October 5, 2010


It would have turned into a really ugly liability situation if they'd used their limited water supply in an attempt to put out Cranick's house, only to have it start the paying neighbors house on fire.

The issue is not nearly so cut and dry as some of you think.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:39 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


They'd also be liable if another call came in while fighting Cranick's house fire.

And I doubt their insurance company would be happy with any personal injury claims arising from fighting Cranick's fire.

All in all, it's a lose-lose situation for all involved.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:41 PM on October 5, 2010


The inhumanly callous don't get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to hypothetical compassion.

Well, let's make it less hypothetical: the total cost of providing fire service to the current non-subscribers in South Fulton's rural fire protection area comes to about $30,000. Get back to us with a link to your cancelled check, because last time I looked, "Compassion" wasn't listed as a payment option at FirefighterSupplies.com.
posted by holgate at 10:42 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't know what kind of world you live in where the reasonable conclusion to draw is that fire departments would routinely let people burn to death over $75, but I'm glad it's not mine.

Well, apparently we live in a world where fire departments will routinely let people's houses burn to the ground over $75, so I don't know why you're acting like it's a massive stretch.
posted by Dasein at 9:43 AM on October 6, 2010


There's a big, big, BIG difference between "life and safety" and "property damage." That difference is a big deal in all firefighter training, too. The priorities of firefighters are as follows:

1. Save lives
2. Prevent danger to life, limb, or safety
3. Contain and prevent the spread of the fire

"Stop your house from burning down" isn't actually on the list, except as it relates to the other three. They aren't there to save your house. Frankly, smoke and water damage is so pervasive that by the time it's significantly on fire, it's pretty much a total write-off anyway.
posted by KathrynT at 9:50 AM on October 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


Well, apparently we live in a world where fire departments will routinely let people's houses burn to the ground over $75, so I don't know why you're acting like it's a massive stretch.

What KathrynT says. If you can't see how there's a huge difference between people and property, I got nothing for you.
posted by juv3nal at 10:08 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I hope Mr. Cranick wasn't so stupid as to avoid home insurance. It is kinda socialist, though.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:37 AM on October 6, 2010


Oh, he plans to get some this week.
posted by FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.) at 12:45 PM on October 6, 2010




I hope Mr. Cranick wasn't so stupid as to avoid home insurance.
"Cranick, who is now living in a trailer on his property, says his insurance policy will help cover some of his lost home.

'Insurance is going to pay for what money I had on the policy, looks like. But like everything else, I didn't have enough.'"*
posted by ericb at 1:12 PM on October 6, 2010


From an American Family Association blogger:

Firefighters did the Christian thing in letting house burn to the ground
The fire department did the right and Christian thing. The right thing, by the way, is also the Christian thing, because there can be no difference between the two. The right thing to do will always be the Christian thing to do, and the Christian thing to do will always be the right thing to do.

If I somehow think the right thing to do is not the Christian thing to do, then I am either confused about what is right or confused about Christianity, or both.

In this case, critics of the fire department are confused both about right and wrong and about Christianity. And it is because they have fallen prey to a weakened, feminized version of Christianity that is only about softer virtues such as compassion and not in any part about the muscular Christian virtues of individual responsibility and accountability.

[...]

This story illustrates the fundamental difference between a sappy, secularist worldview, which unfortunately too many Christians have adopted, and the mature, robust Judeo-Christian worldview which made America the strongest and most prosperous nation in the world. The secularist wants to excuse and even reward irresponsibility, which eventually makes everybody less safe and less prosperous. A Christian worldview rewards responsibility and stresses individual responsibility and accountability, which in the end makes everybody more safe and more prosperous.

I’m going with mature, robust Christianity on this one.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:57 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have long suspected that many many people use the word "Christian" having no idea what it means. And please, for the love of everything, leave Judaism out of it. This isn't "Judeo-Christian" as it is neither Jewish nor Christian. It's just conservative BUNK.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:20 PM on October 6, 2010


If you can't see how there's a huge difference between people and property, I got nothing for you.

Sure, there's a difference, but if you're so bloody callous as to let someone's house - and everything in it, the family heirlooms, the baby pictures, the years of investment and memories - burn down over $75, I'm not sure I trust you to care.
posted by Dasein at 4:22 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have to say, I'm really shocked at the number of people in this thread who would see something wrong in not treating a patient who hadn't bought medical insurance but see nothing wrong with leaving a family homeless because the owner didn't buy firefighter insurance.
posted by Dasein at 4:24 PM on October 6, 2010


There's a difference between saying "well, this is the inevitable consequence of trying to starve government through low taxes" and saying there's nothing wrong with what happened. What happened was a tragedy, and an avoidable one. It demonstrates exactly why the "government is part of the problem, not part of the solution" attitude is bullshit. This story is *exactly* why I believe that emergency-type services should be on a single payer system, and I would argue that health care should be included in that. Emergency services shouldn't be set up so that you have to affirmatively opt in, because then stuff like this happens.
posted by ambrosia at 4:34 PM on October 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


This thread is some kind of bizarro alternate universe, one in which a bunch of mefites who would normally mock Glenn Beck are in agreement with him.
posted by mlis at 5:26 PM on October 6, 2010


Glenn Beck thinks opt-in fire services are stupid?
posted by Artw at 5:30 PM on October 6, 2010


but see nothing wrong with leaving a family homeless because the owner didn't buy firefighter insurance.

Once again: you can show your boundless compassion by sending a check for $30,000 (minus whatever kafziel has already contributed) to the South Fulton Fire Department, TN 38257.

But for crying out loud: the system worked exactly as it was supposed to, and that system was put in place with the democratic approval of the county residents. The outcome shows that a better system is needed, i.e. the one that has worked fairly well for at least the last century.

This is a different position from the AFA "Christians" and other conservatives who actually endorse the system in place, and who also seem to have missed how Jesus hung out with all sorts of irresponsible types. But Jesus was pretty fucking radical in his rejection of the material world.
posted by holgate at 5:35 PM on October 6, 2010


one in which a bunch of mefites who would normally mock Glenn Beck are in agreement with him.

Er, no. Try again. Plus, when Beck went on to say "this is Obamacare", he was asserting the exact opposite of the truth about mandates and adverse selection.
posted by holgate at 5:40 PM on October 6, 2010


Heh. Of couse the biggest MeFi objection to the health plan is that it doesn't let you pull a Cranick.
posted by Artw at 5:55 PM on October 6, 2010


someone's house - and everything in it, the family heirlooms, the baby pictures, the years of investment and memories - burn down over $75

Dasein: The minute the house was involved in the fire AT ALL, all that stuff was already gone. What the smoke doesn't ruin, the water will; it'll either get burnt beyond recognition (if the firefighters don't intervene) or soaked to a pulp (if they do).

Repeat after me: The fire department isn't there to save your house.
posted by KathrynT at 9:59 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I gotta figure the overwrought reactions are the result of idealistic fantasies about the heroism of firefighters being dashed against the shoals of liability and the rocks of petty bureaucracy.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:30 PM on October 6, 2010


five fresh fish, I have been a volunteer firefighter, a paid borough/county fire control dispatcher and a nephew and cousin of several decorated firefighters on FDNY. You are not even sure how mutual aid works in your country, so perhaps it is best that you stop the talk of "idealistic fantasies" and just sit this thread out as your contributions are increasingly irrational.

KathrynT What the smoke doesn't ruin, the water will; it'll either get burnt beyond recognition (if the firefighters don't intervene) or soaked to a pulp (if they do).

Doesn't always work that way. I have been to attic fires that were extinguished with much of the rest of the house with minimal smoke and water damage, though the roof had to be opened up.

Repeat after me: The fire department isn't there to save your house.

Maybe where you are it works that way. In Boston, NYC, Long Island, the counties north of NYC, and PG County Maryland, to name the areas off the top of my head I am familiar with, the strategy is to mount an aggressive attack, get lines inside and put water on the fire. The goals are to save lives and, yes, to save property.

wintermind In my part of Maryland one of the urban/suburban county fire departments will not conduct interior operations for the sole purpose of saving property.

Are you talking about an abandoned warehouse scenario that is a surround-and-drown operation or something else? I don't know where in Maryland you are, but if you are describing something other than a surround-and-drown I know it is not Kentland VFC, among others in PG County, is well regarded for their aggressive interior attacks.
posted by mlis at 12:22 AM on October 7, 2010


Firefighters are just assholes, then? Gotcha.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:21 AM on October 7, 2010


Burn!
posted by mazola at 7:28 AM on October 7, 2010


Slightly off topic, but on the topic of "taxes are a waste because government doesn't do anything valuable", I heard a former president of MIT talking about our progressive failure to support our science and math education reel of a list of about twenty items, including cell phones, electronics, the Internet, and robotics, that he said drive almost all business in the US today. All of them were developed through government funding. All of them.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:37 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


"reel off" - Doh!
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:37 AM on October 7, 2010


That was an unfortunate comment I made.
posted by mlis at 7:56 PM on October 7, 2010


Awww, hugs, man.

Y'see, I don't think firefighters are likely to be particularly assholish. And so I look for rational reasons for their decisions on this case.

Better than being a hater, IMO.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:12 AM on October 8, 2010




"Change.org is organizing a letter-writing campaign to tell 'Obion County Sherrif Danny Jowers, the main contact person for Obion County Office of Emergency Management, that letting pets burn to death over $75 is unacceptable.' The animal welfare group The Philanthropy Team is demanding the resignation [PDF] of Mayor David Crocker and Fire Chief David Wilds."*
posted by ericb at 1:45 PM on October 8, 2010


Anyone taking bets on whether the town just stops offering a subscription services after the end of June? 'Cause right now, what with condemnations and demands for resignation, if I was Mayor that would be my next step. Probably save more money than the subscription was bringing in too.
posted by Mitheral at 2:43 PM on October 8, 2010


Cool, fff, hugs it is!
posted by mlis at 5:44 PM on October 8, 2010


Everything in that house non flammable too? Just because the walls won't burn doesn't mean you are immune to fire.

There is a difference to loosing the entire structure and a room or 2 going up in flames.

In addition, you can opt to install a sprinkler system.

So with proper planning - one can reduce the risks.

Lighting a burn barrel on fire and going inside to take a shower is not risk reduction.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:48 PM on October 10, 2010


The right thing, by the way, is also the Christian thing, because there can be no difference between the two. The right thing to do will always be the Christian thing to do, and the Christian thing to do will always be the right thing to do.

Never forget this part.

If I somehow think the right thing to do is not the Christian thing to do, then I am either confused about what is right or confused about Christianity, or both.

Oh wait.

Dasein: The minute the house was involved in the fire AT ALL, all that stuff was already gone. What the smoke doesn't ruin, the water will; it'll either get burnt beyond recognition (if the firefighters don't intervene) or soaked to a pulp (if they do).

Anecdata: My apartment had a pretty bad fire (3 fire trucks, hundreds of fireman), and yes, everything was soaked and smoked, but I was still able to salvage A LOT of stuff, including, but not limited to, 500 LPs--I cleaned each one and replaced the sleeves; my glasses; a suitcase full of old clothes; my wallet, with all my ID and cards (phew!); and my glass bong.

My roommate who was out of town and had her door closed, was able to salvage 80-90% of her stuff. (If only I had closed my door on the way out; the fire started in another roommate's room and traveled along the walls.)

Smoke and water will destroy most stuff but not all. If my apartment had burned to the ground, I would have lost everything. The FD might not be there to save my stuff, but it's certainly one MAJOR benefit of putting out the fire.

This story is totally awesome, btw. Believe it or not, despite my own fire and losing almost everything I owned (with no insurance b/c I hate the industry) I'm actually pro-firefighters here. You opt out of fire coverage (with sufficient checks to make sure that it's accidental), you have made a choice.

I opted out of renter's insurance and I got nothing except for $pittance off my taxes. But that was the gamble/situation I put myself into. My decision.

Oddly, I can see myself in the same situation as Cranick--say I forgot to send in my fee and ignored or missed calls and letters--but here's the thing. Honestly, I wouldn't be punching anybody about it afterward. If I fuck up, I'm gonna take the consequences and make the best of it.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:58 AM on October 11, 2010


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