J. Money recently brought attention to a dramatic story circulating around the Internet about a house that burned down because a man didn’t pay his $75 fire fighting fee.
Here’s J’s quote from the original story:
“Gene Cranick of Obion County and his family lost all of their possessions in the fire, along with three dogs and a cat.
“They could have been saved if they had put water on it, but they didn’t do it,” Cranick told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann.”…
Firefighters did eventually show up, but only to fight the fire on the neighboring property, whose owner had paid the fee.
“They put water out on the fence line out here. They never said nothing to me. Never acknowledged. They stood out here and watched it burn,” Cranick said.”
This prompted a long, 80+ comment discussion with readers taking both sides. Some were in favor of the homeowner, feeling appalled that the firefighters would let the house burn down. Others stood with the County, insisting that the homeowner should have been more responsible and paid his fee.
Whether or not you agree with letting this house burn down, I’m more interested in the larger issue. Why is access to emergency services treated as an option instead something you have to do?
I think this is a foolish approach for one primary reason:
When you give people the option to do something, you can bet that at least a few will take it. When it comes to emergency services, these are often the people at high risk for something to happen (e.g. people who can’t afford to maintain their home properly).
When a calamity does strike, it doesn’t affect us individually. If your house is on fire, it also affects every other property around you (as was the case here). If firefighters are busy building a perimeter instead of focusing on putting out the source, do you have faith that they can contain the flames every time?
I think the only appropriate solution is the following:
Whether you call them taxes, assessments, fees, or anything else, let’s never make payments for emergency services an option.
Build them into the tax structure, or do whatever else needs to be done to make it work. Let’s face it–$75 should not be a big deal to a homeowner who already pays thousands in maintenance and taxes.
Consider some of the other implications:
- What would happen if 911 centers were only available to callers who registered and paid a fee?
- Should police check a roster of tax delinquencies before they go into your home to stop a burglar?
- Should an ambulance leave you bleeding to death because you can’t pre-pay the ride to the hospital?
- If I have a dead body to hide, can I get the list of “unpaid” homes to burn down? (Okay, I don’t really–put down the phone)
I’m all for personal responsibility, but there are certain things in this country that we should take for granted. Someone coming to save me is certainly one of them.
Photo by Brad Gillette