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Fire Fighters Let Home Burn... for Delinquent $75

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FULL STORY LINK

So, what do you think?

Rural Tennessee fire sparks conservative ideological debate

By Brett Michael Dykes

Just about anything can be fodder for an ideological dispute these days. Just consider news of the recent fire at Gene Cranick's home in Obion County, Tenn.

Here's the short version of what happened: In rural Obion County, homeowners must pay $75 annually for protection services from the nearby city of South Fulton. If they don't pay the fee and their home catches fire, tough luck -- even if firefighters are positioned just outside the home with hoses at the ready.

Gene Cranick found this out the hard way.

When Cranick's house caught fire last week, and he couldn't contain the blaze with garden hoses, he called 911. During the emergency call, he offered to pay all expenses related to the Fire defense of his home, but the South Fulton firefighters refused to do anything.

["Pay to spray" fire services: how they work]

They did, however, come out when Cranick's neighbor -- who'd already paid the fee -- called 911 because he worried that the fire might spread to his property. Once they arrived, members of the South Fulton department stood by and watched Cranick's home burn; they sprang into action only when the fire reached the neighbor's property.

"I hadn't paid my $75 and that's what they want, $75, and they don't care how much it burned down," Gene Cranick told WPSD, an NBC affiliate in Kentucky. "I thought they'd come out and put it out, even if you hadn't paid your $75, but I was wrong."

---FULL STORY

Listening to some conservatives and libertarians on this underscores their struggles in not being able to properly articulate a fundamental, cohesive philosophy.

How would you articulate "what went wrong" here?

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Someone who doesn't pay for fire protection isn't any worse off than someone in an area without a fire department. No harm, no foul. Nearby neighbors who payed for coverage might have a case. If it was me, I would help put out the fire (but not necessarily risk my life in the process) since I hate to see valuables go up in flames, and if I lived nearby a burnt house would be an eyesore at the very least. Also, it's nice to be able to assume that some people would do the same for me, but I can't imagine putting a gun to their head and forcing them into it.

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If I was in charge of the fire department I would have told the man he had to pay an extremely overpriced fee for us to come, but I would not have ignored it. It is awesome though that this city has a policy where it is optional to buy fire protection.

Edit: Sorry I didn't answer your question. I think there is nothing wrong with what the fire department did since the man knew what he was doing when he refused to pay the $75.

Edited by OCSL

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How would you articulate "what went wrong" here?

The guy made the wrong choice, by refusing to pay the fee. (which probably isn't even going to those volunteer firefighters, it's barely enough to pay for their equipment).

As for what happened afterward, nothing went wrong. Justice was served. Excellent. For those who don't believe in justice, there is nothing to say. Justice is an attribute of reality, and refusing to believe in reality is destructive and evil.

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Right, wrong, both?

Ultimately the only wrong here is the fact that this is a Government run fire department.

Yes the man forgot/failed to pay the annual subscription. Ultimately that was his fault.

I've seen first hand reports online from people in the area indicating that the fire dept/county provides awful/no reminder notices of the expiration - which indicates incompetence/ineptitude on the part of the county admins but no blame.

But the law prohibited the fire dept from taking payment on site / in the moment of need. The fire fighters, by accounts I've read, would like to have acted differently but were prohibited by law.

The man doesn't lose responsibility for failing to pay in advance - but if the law had not been in place, the man could have paid for their services then and there. Justice was not served because the fire fighters themselves weren't free to act as they wished at the time.

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The guy made the wrong choice, by refusing to pay the fee. (which probably isn't even going to those volunteer firefighters, it's barely enough to pay for their equipment).

As for what happened afterward, nothing went wrong. Justice was served. Excellent. For those who don't believe in justice, there is nothing to say. Justice is an attribute of reality, and refusing to believe in reality is destructive and evil.

100% agreement on the first part. However, something did go wrong.

Not having enough information to know who exactly on behalf of the fire fighters never thought about the possibility of this type of situation, I'll just say that, generically, the individual in charge of decision making for the fire fighters did NOT act rationally. (My guess is it is the local government - City Mayor)

Since fire fighting is a service, and as we all agree it likely costs more than the $75 annual fee to properly fund the coverage of these areas -- Would it not be in the best interest of the fire house to have a basic "rate card"?

The captain should be able to tell a person in an emergency, "This will cost an estimated $2,725, are you OK with that?"

Later, the bill shows - for example:

  • Travel time & Vehicles - $350
  • Fire Fighters Labor - 7 X $100 per hour (3 hours)
  • Equipment - $275

Basically, the rates should be marked up at a level that sufficiently incentivizes payment of the annual fee.

The failure here was that there was an URGENT need for a service and, for some reason, the market didn't have an option at that moment.

The guy who owned the house was likely willing to pay the anual fee equivalent to 20 years+ in advance so long as the fire fighters would save his house. There is no doubt he was wrong and this is on him 100%. But there was still a market failure. There was a very high premium available for a service, and not only was that service not available -the one organization that was on location and prepared and equipped to provide service actually denied themselves that profit.

Edited by freestyle

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Of course it was wrong. First, the fire department is government owned and tax-funded. The government has a coercive monopoly on fire services, there is no free competition. The $75 fee is totally arbitrary and the “pay the $75 or we don't respond” is a totally arbitrary policy mandated by the local mayor.

The man said he was willing to pay whatever to put the house out at that point. Yes, he doesn't have a right to firefighting services. Yes, he doesn't have a right to force anyone to put out his fire. Yes, he doesn't have a right to demand the government respond to his fire. But imagine if the government monopolized medical services, rationed them arbitrarily, and some person who didn't go through some bureaucratic hoops was refused service, and had to either go abroad for care or die. You wouldn't say "justice was served" to that. Justice would be allowing the man to freely associate with those willing to put out the fire for whatever price they deemed to be in their self-interest. I see this as a monstrous injustice by the local government.

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The guy who owned the house was likely willing to pay the anual fee equivalent to 20 years+ in advance so long as the fire fighters would save his house. There is no doubt he was wrong and this is on him 100%. But there was still a market failure. There was a very high premium available for a service, and not only was that service not available -the one organization that was on location and prepared and equipped to provide service actually denied themselves that profit.
One of the previous posters said that the law did not let the fire-department charge a high rate and go to the scene; instead it disallowed them from helping. If those are the facts, then you're using a very broad definition of "market failure". It's more a failure of the law. If the law had allowed such emergency rates, and the fire guys were private, and yet they did not offer something that made sense for them, it could be called a "market failure".

As a geeky aside: even 20 times $75 would probably be a low emergency-rates. In my city, the number of fire calls to which the fire-department responded was about 1 for every 100 households in one recent year. So, for my city, the emergency rate would need to be somewhere near 100 times the annual rate in order to encourage customers to sign up for insurance.

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Looking at this issue from a laissez-faire point of view--which isn't the concrete case at hand--I can agree with the decision of the fire department. A fee of $75 is required for use of that departments services. The home owner didn't pay that fee and subsequently didn't receive the services; those terms are fairly cut and dry from a contractual standpoint, and I think this is the most morally pertinent aspect of the case.

I've heard it argued that the fire department should have fought the fire and then collected the fee or charge a higher, penalty fee. However, I can see why that didn't and maybe shouldn't have occurred. Of course choosing to fight the fire would have been a benevolent act, an action that would indeed be commendable, but a policy of such benevolence would hamper the ability of the fire department to provide future service--so long as they rely on their fee system. If they would have chosen to fight that fire, the message would have been sent that, "It's okay not to pay the fee, because they will fight the fire anyway." If that attitude is taken up, there is a good possibility that an underfunded fire department will result. By choosing to not fight the fire, the opposite message was sent, and I can guarantee you that a whole lot of people sent a check to the fire department.

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This is our future now with respect to health care.

Dr. Andrew Bernstein announced that (on his Facebook page according to Diana Hsieh):

"If the government takes over health care, I will refuse to buy their package, refuse to pay the fine imposed, and make them arrest me. I will broadcast my refusal to cave to socialism on my website, on Facebook, to my students, in my lectures, and on the radio. I will fight this in the courts--or will the DC Fascists suspend the right to trial by jury? I suspect--and hope--that millions of Americans will do the same."

Now, fast forward ten years and Dr. Bernstein (and thousands or millions of others) has indeed refused to pay. Disregarding whatever legal consequences he will have faced or will be facing, suppose that Dr. Bernstein has a heart attack.

He didn't pay the fee, therefore...

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Looking at this issue from a laissez-faire point of view--which isn't the concrete case at hand--I can agree with the decision of the fire department. A fee of $75 is required for use of that departments services. The home owner didn't pay that fee and subsequently didn't receive the services; those terms are fairly cut and dry from a contractual standpoint, and I think this is the most morally pertinent aspect of the case.

I've heard it argued that the fire department should have fought the fire and then collected the fee or charge a higher, penalty fee. However, I can see why that didn't and maybe shouldn't have occurred. Of course choosing to fight the fire would have been a benevolent act, an action that would indeed be commendable, but a policy of such benevolence would hamper the ability of the fire department to provide future service--so long as they rely on their fee system. If they would have chosen to fight that fire, the message would have been sent that, "It's okay not to pay the fee, because they will fight the fire anyway." If that attitude is taken up, there is a good possibility that an underfunded fire department will result. By choosing to not fight the fire, the opposite message was sent, and I can guarantee you that a whole lot of people sent a check to the fire department.

How in the world can you call that a "laissez-faire point of view" that the government should have their fire departments "send a message" to pay your fees or we'll let your house burn down? The economic link between payment received and services rendered is not a legitimate reason to extort tax payments from the people and exclude other people from competing in a function that is outside of the proper scope of government in the first place. This was a violation of this man's individual rights, this was not an example of the trader principle in action.

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But then Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said, with respect to Obamacare:

"It may be the salvation of the private market," Sebelius said of the health law, speaking to a group of reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "As rates go up, they are losing their customer base.

So one could say in 2014 when there become … somewhere between 30 and 40 million new customers that is a kind of new opportunity for the private insurance market,” she said, referring to the number of Americans currently uninsured that will then be required under the law to obtain coverage."

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How in the world can you call that a "laissez-faire point of view" that the government should have their fire departments "send a message" to pay your fees or we'll let your house burn down? The economic link between payment received and services rendered is not a legitimate reason to extort tax payments from the people and exclude other people from competing in a function that is outside of the proper scope of government in the first place. This was a violation of this man's individual rights, this was not an example of the trader principle in action.

"Looking at this issue from a laissez-faire point of view--which isn't the concrete case at hand ..."
is important to understand in order to properly understand the rest of my post; it's there as an alert that what follows his highly generalized, and many particulars were intentionally left out. Since part of the debate is whether it is moral to have a fee based fire service at all, I think such generalized (maybe even idealized) defenses of such a system--not as it is, but as it should be--are in order. And really, I shouldn't say that it is "part of the debate" as, from what I've read and seen on television, it's the crux of the debate.

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I understand that, but that is all the more reason to point out that this wasn't laissez-faire and this wasn't a moral process or outcome based on the trader principle. What I see is the collectivists saying “They're charging money for this, turning it into a commodity, making a trade out of it! That's the problem! That's what you pro-market people want!” Then some trying to defend capitalism say “Well then I agree with the fire department's decision because charging money for services is moral.” Accepting the basic premise, just taking the opposite point of view. But that's not correct, because the trader principle is not applicable to the actions of the fire department being that it was a result of government mandates, policy, and socialization of an industry.

Instead, we should be pointing out, “If you don't like that, then why do you want to nationalize other industries, because that is the logical result of bureaucratic management as opposed to management for profit, where services are performed and payments are rendered under free competition.” Simply saying “He didn't pay, therefore it should burn.” is not a valid response because the conditions under which it would have to burn if he didn't pay anyone (or was taken to court for non-payment after the fact) are not applicable.

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But the law prohibited the fire dept from taking payment on site / in the moment of need. The fire fighters, by accounts I've read, would like to have acted differently but were prohibited by law.

Do you have links to any articles discussing that?

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Then some trying to defend capitalism say “Well then I agree with the fire department's decision because charging money for services is moral.”

You can and should morally evaluate someone based on their decisions, even if he doesn't live in a perfect world, you know. There's no reason to turn this into a macro economic debate.

I don't think anyone on my side of the debate thinks what we have here is LFC, and are trying to defend it. I (and I think others too, but I'll speak for myself) am trying to defend personal accountability and justice, not in an imaginary LFC world, but in this world. Personal accountability happens to be the basis of Capitalism, and seeing Americans hold this man to it is a great sign, but no one is saying today's America is fully Capitalist. What I'm saying is only that in this example a man was treated as if he is a grown up, independent individual, responsible for his own damn poor decision making, and that's a good thing. It's a good thing no matter what else is going on.

Instead, we should be pointing out, “If you don't like that, then why do you want to nationalize other industries, because that is the logical result of bureaucratic management as opposed to management for profit, where services are performed and payments are rendered under free competition.”

That would mean conceding the point that the guy deserved to have his house saved. But he didn't. I don't know if in an imaginary laissez-faire world he could've bough the service on the spot or not, but in this world he couldn't, and he knew that full well when he made his decision. He wasn't counting on buying the service on the spot, he was counting on getting it for free, at everyone else's expense.

He got what he deserved, and that outcome is something we can and should defend on moral grounds, if we hope to see the notion that everyone deserves a safety net once their decisions fail to support them, defeated.

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I spoke to a family friend that has been a firefighter for over 20 years about this incident. He told me that they should have saved the house and made him pay the fee afterwards as the firemen had taken an oath that requires them to assist the man. He stated that he does not know a single fireman that would have willingly let that house burn down, though he would not have risked his life to do so in this instance.

I am curious what thoughts are on this situation when taking this oath into consideration. I Looked it up and here it is:

Firefighters Oath

I promise concern for others. A willingness to help all those in need.

I promise courage - courage to face and conquer my fears. Courage to share and endure the ordeal of those who need me.

I promise strength - strength of heart to bear whatever burdens might be placed upon me. Strength of body to deliver to safety all those placed within my care.

I promise the wisdom to lead, the compassion to comfort, and the love to serve unselfishly whenever I am called.

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You can and should morally evaluate someone based on their decisions, even if he doesn't live in a perfect world, you know. There's no reason to turn this into a macro economic debate.

I don't think anyone on my side of the debate thinks what we have here is LFC, and are trying to defend it. I (and I think others too, but I'll speak for myself) am trying to defend personal accountability and justice, not in an imaginary LFC world, but in this world. Personal accountability happens to be the basis of Capitalism, and seeing Americans hold this man to it is a great sign, but no one is saying today's America is fully Capitalist. What I'm saying is only that in this example a man was treated as if he is a grown up, independent individual, responsible for his own damn poor decision making, and that's a good thing. It's a good thing no matter what else is going on.

That would mean conceding the point that the guy deserved to have his house saved. But he didn't. I don't know if in an imaginary laissez-faire world he could've bough the service on the spot or not, but in this world he couldn't, and he knew that full well when he made his decision. He wasn't counting on buying the service on the spot, he was counting on getting it for free, at everyone else's expense.

He got what he deserved, and that outcome is something we can and should defend on moral grounds, if we hope to see the notion that everyone deserves a safety net once their decisions fail to support them, defeated.

I'm not saying he deserved to have his house put out at others' expense (I said the exact opposite in my first post), I'm just saying he deserves not to have his rights violated. Were they not? Was it not the intervention of government into this area of society and the economy that resulted in his inability to have the option, in this world (not an imaginary one), of deserving his fire put out by someone willing and free to accept his payments then and there?

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One of the previous posters said that the law did not let the fire-department charge a high rate and go to the scene; instead it disallowed them from helping. If those are the facts, then you're using a very broad definition of "market failure". It's more a failure of the law. If the law had allowed such emergency rates, and the fire guys were private, and yet they did not offer something that made sense for them, it could be called a "market failure".

As a geeky aside: even 20 times $75 would probably be a low emergency-rates. In my city, the number of fire calls to which the fire-department responded was about 1 for every 100 households in one recent year. So, for my city, the emergency rate would need to be somewhere near 100 times the annual rate in order to encourage customers to sign up for insurance.

Agreed on both points. I purposely did not say "free market" failure. But whether there was an actual law or not, the market was not completely free since this is a government service.

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I'm just saying he deserves not to have his rights violated. Were they not?

Everyone's rights have been violated at some point in our lives, by some kind of taxation or restriction on freedom. That doesn't warrant claiming victim-hood until the rest of our days.

This guy's rights weren't violated by anyone connected to this story. He isn't paying taxes for a fire department. That's why there's a voluntary coverage fee instead.

I'm not saying he deserved to have his house put out at others' expense (I said the exact opposite in my first post), I'm just saying he deserves not to have his rights violated. Were they not? Was it not the intervention of government into this area of society and the economy that resulted in his inability to have the option, in this world (not an imaginary one), of deserving his fire put out by someone willing and free to accept his payments then and there?

You are speculating about a hypothetical LFC society, and claiming to know for a fact that in such a society firefighters would've shown up and put his house out. By that logic, no one is responsible for anything, because a LFC society would be technologically advanced enough to solve all our problems. If I kill someone while drunk driving, it's Obama's fault not mine, because I did it in a car that doesn't stop on its own when there's a person in front of it. If the government hadn't prevented someone from building it (in this world, not an imaginary one) I could've bought that car and drove drunk just fine.

Of course it's an imaginary world I am speculating about. And of course I am morally responsible for knowing and acting in accordance with this reality (a reality in which cars obviously don't stop on their own, and firefighters obviously don't take checks in an emergency, so we need to drive sober and keep our fire coverage up to date).

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For what it is worth, I'd recommend that those interested in this issue (whether or not Mr. Cranick's rights were violated with respect to this incident) read Dr. George Reisman's article, "The Real Right to Medical Care versus Socialized Medicine." The same principles that apply with respect to medical care apply to "fire care."

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Those firefighters took an oath. Moral obligations are not rooted in a $75.00 contract, they are rooted in the nature of egoism itself. I wouldnt be able to live with myself if I had the means to save that mans house (and pets) and chose to stand by and watch it burn. City government be damned. Ridiculous.

j..

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$75 per annum for fire service? Hmm. Let's say there was only one big fire service for a city, and the city had 1 million homes. That means they'd be taking 75 million dollars per year to run the fire department.

I don't know much about fire departments. Say they had a 100 staff earning 50k each. That eats up 5 million dollars. Say they have 20 engines costing 50k each, that's another million (nevermind for now that they don't buy a whole new fleet every year). Say they blow a few more 100k on equipment and supplies. And a million on training and recruitment. Some more millions on insurance and pensions and payouts. We're still waaaay off the 75 million mark.

What am I missing here?

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