Free-Market Fire Protection

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by turgy22, Oct 6, 2010.

  1. turgy22 Nothing Special

    I'm not sure if anyone else hear about this story, but it's an interesting situation to evaluate how much intervention the government should have vs. letting free markets decide how to handle certain situations.

    For those that don't want to read the article, here's the gist of it: In a rural Tennessee county, people are offered fire protection for their homes for the price of $75 per year. One man chose not to pay the fee and then his house caught fire. The fire department refused to come until his neighbor (who did pay the fee) called because his field caught fire. Upon arriving at the scene, the fire fighters helped out the neighbor, but did nothing while the man's home burned to the ground.

    I'm a bit torn about how things should have been handled. On the one hand, the guy was a careless and a freeloader and he should have known the potential consequences of refusing to pay the fee. He basically gambled that his house would not catch fire and lost. Now, he's out one house.

    On the other hand, I believe common sense dictates that once the firefighters had arrived, it would have been beneficial to everyone to just put the fire out. I know he didn't pay the fee before, but they could have saved his house and then charged him for all the years he refused to pay and then some and he probably still would have come out ahead.

    I'm curious as to what other people think. Was this the correct way to handle the situation? Should more government services be run this way? Do things change depending on whether lives are on the line or if it's just property that's in danger?
  2. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    I read the article :)

    I need more information: How long the fee has been charged, how much opposition there was to imposing it when it was first imposed

    On first brush, yes, common sense would have seemed that the fire should have been put out at the first home. But if the fee has been around for a while, I don't think it's fair for the homeowner to suddenly want to pay when he actually needs it; like you said, he gambled and fell short this time. If he is allowed to pay at that moment or charged after the fact, then the law or fee should be amended so that it applies to everyone *now*.

    I think I remember reading/hearing about this kind of thing for emergency services like ambulances in some places also: that a fee is charged, not that a person died from the result of not paying the fee and needing the service.
  3. DarthFerret Evil Sith Weasel

    I guess I would look at it like this. If you pay for insurance on your home (including fire, flood, theft, etc..) then you are covered. If you don't then you take your chances with charity agencies (sometimes they won't help, I have experienced this personally). So if you live in a community where you are required to pay for Fire Protection Services, and you don't pay, you take your chances. However, I really think that the fire and police services (as well as public works in general) is a responsibility of the city government to handle (or county, pending on location) and that the taxes charged by that municipality for sales and property taxes should be the basis of funding for those services. I think the town in the article was wrong in having the fee in the first place. But, since apparently it was communicated to the family that they would be on thier own if they did not pay, I think the situation was handled correctly. Maybe I am letting a bit of personal feelings into it (as a former fire-fighter), but these guys put thier life on the line several times a year. The compensation should be guaranteed. And in response to the end of the article, I would give the person who assaulted the fire-fighter the maximum possible sentance, as even a fire-fighter must follow the commands of his officers. (We follow orders, or people die, it is that simple).
  4. turgy22 Nothing Special

    Just to clarify, since it seems to be a point of confusion: The fee applies only to households located in Obion County. The fire company itself is located in the city of South Fulton and funded by that city's taxes. Before the fee was instituted, the people of Obion County had NO fire protection. The South Fulton Fire Department began instituting the fee for the purpose of extending coverage to Obion County as a way to recoup costs for responding to emergencies located there, which would normally be out of their jurisdiction.

    So, to answer Spidey's inquiry, I would imagine there was no opposition to the fee, since it's basically giving people the option to pay for an additional service. And to answer DF's comment, the firefighters do receive guaranteed compensation.

    Spidey's comment about ambulance service reflects what a lot of people are mad about and touches on my question about responsibility depending on danger to life or property. I'm pretty sure ambulance services work in the manner that I suggested made sense. You can buy ambulance insurance and then if you need one, you don't need to worry about it. If you don't have insurance, you still get the care you need, but you're going to pay for it later. EMTs aren't going to let you die because you didn't pay a fee. Similarly, I'm wondering if the firefighters would have responded the same way if say, someone was still trapped inside the house.
  5. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    Well, I imagine it's too expensive for Obion County to have a fire service of their own, else why do the fee thing, right? So I think the fire services are right here.

    If a life was on the line though, I think that should take precedence over whether or not the homeowner paid a fee (and unfortunately, should probably be spelled out if it isn't).

    I think in general, emergency care is handled by the hospital and the amulance service is either part of them (the hospital) or could be privately-owned, in which case you might need to pay for their service. If it's part of the hospital, yeah, if you're not covered, then they "suck it up" or raise rates elsewhere to cover for it (or there might be a government fund that helps them out in such cases, not sure).
  6. DarthFerret Evil Sith Weasel

    Spidey, a lot of that depends on what type of hospital it is. If it is a "state-run" hospital, they recieve state funding to compliment the fees they charge (mainly cause a lot of indigent people will go to those hospitals). If it is not a state run hospital, then I think they still cannot refuse true emergency cases, but can turn away those cases that would have an option to go elsewhere if there is no insurance or payment available. Of course this is just what I have heard and have no evidence to support it.

    In reference to the fire-fighter aspect, I guess I missed those details. So yes, since the firefighters are compensated, and yes IF a life was on the line, then I think they should have gone in. But since (apparently) no life was endangered, I think thier response is appropriate. However, when I lived in Missouri, the county fire department was Volunteer (except the acting Fire Cheif, but his compensation was only a small supplimental income), and the city department was the paid one. Of course, we did not charge fees as all of the funding came from tax dollars. And it was also common for a city department to request assistance from another city department or from the county volunteers. At one particular barn fire (over 120 hay bales as well as the barn were fully involved) we had 2 cities engines, tankers, and brush rigs, the counties tanker and brush rig, and one other city's tanker there. So where I come from co-operation was definately a part of the whole scheme.
  7. EricBess Active Member

    turgy - Why did you title this "Free-Market Fire Protection"? When I read this article, what I see is that the mayor is the one determining the policy. This is more like an extortion racket and should not be confused for free-market. Had this bee a free-market situation, then when the guy offered to pay "whatever it would take", the fire department would have responded and would have sent the guy a bill. That's how it should be, IMO - if he doesn't want to pay the $75 up front, then he should pay whatever the cost on the back end.

    But it sounds to me in this case like someone in government was trying to make an example of this guy. You don't want to pay the insurance, you don't get anything, whether you are willing the full price or not. This is exactly the opposite of the free market. Had the fire department come when they were first called, it sounds like the guy's house wouldn't have even caught on fire. Damages would have been minimal and any bill from the fire department would have gotten paid by the man (he says and we have no reason to assume otherwise).

    IMO - this was irresponsible. Had he not paid the insurance and been unwilling to pay the fire department, then I say he got what was coming, but that wasn't the case here.
  8. turgy22 Nothing Special

    I titled it "free market", because the service offered is elective, not mandated. If it were government-controlled, the city would have forced everyone to pay the fee (e.g. add it to their taxes). As it stands, they set a policy that said if you pay the fee, you receive coverage for the service. If not, you get nothing. I think the people involved were aware of this policy. If anything, I would call it a questionable business model. But if they felt that creating a pay-as-you-need it system would have hurt their ability to fund their fire department, then that's their prerogative.
  9. EricBess Active Member

    But my read of the report says that it was the government (mayor) who set the policy that did not allow them to have the man pay for their services. This seems like a government policy. But the government in this case is of the city who has no direct control over the outlying regions. The people living within the city pay already because it is part of their tax burden. Basically, the mayor has said that they are willing to provide the service outside the city as well, but only if those people pay their fair share. The people within the city have no choice.

    Had this truely been a free market situation, I seriously doubt that they would have refused him service once he offered to pay.
  10. train The Wildcard!!!...

    Offering to pay when in dire circumstances, does not constitute the actual commitment to paying once the bill is due. sign a contract or not, the fire department/city may never see the money.

    I believe - If there was a life on the line, the firefighters would have saved the life and still let the house burn. The only instance would be if the individual could not be removed safely from the house (extreme obesity cases, trapped individuals, etc.) Then they may try and extinguish the fire while trying to save the individual.

    I think they acted appropriately. There is no obligation from the city or the fire department to put that fire out, if it is not in their designated area, or the service is not established beforehand.

    There are reasons it is illegal to obtain services/products such as insurance, after the fact, and then retro-claim on it.

    There are areas here in California (which blows my mind) where they let the fires burn because CalFire nor local municipalities or even volunteer fire departments have jurisdiction or provide service. They let it burn. national Forest areas - a lot of times, they let it burn. Apartments and homes, businesses etc. - there is a point at which the fire company determines the building is a loss, and they switch to preventing the surrounding buildings, etc. from catching fire, while the original burns out.

    In all actuality - the $75 is an extremely small price to pay for fire protection/services. Heck - he could have paid the $75 for protection, and the house could still reach a point of total destruction. There's no guarantee that your house will make it through a fire, no matter what the damage was. Many times, 1 room burning and smoke alone totals a small house, and greatly affects larger ones.

    If an individual makes a decision to do something, they pay the consequences or reap the benefits.
  11. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I don't actually know anything about this, but did hear anecdotes (my father was a firefighter for a long time) of areas in the U.S. where fire departments didn't get whatever it was they wanted contractually and went on strike. If there was a fire, they would show up to make sure that everyone was evacuated from the building, and then watch the building burn down. I'm pretty sure the law doesn't allow them to go on strike in most places, though.
  12. EricBess Active Member

    Happens in business all the time. There are legal recourses for that.

    My point isn't whether or not they acted appropriately. Personally, I think they acted irresponsibly. The entire neighborhood is affected by the house burning down. Property values are lowered by having the blight in the neighborhood. But all of this is beside the point of my contention. My ONLY issue with this is saying that this was a "free market" situation. The mayor of the town set the policy and made the decision. Had this been a "for profit" fire department, they would have put the fire out and sent the guy a bill.

    This guy understood that. He realized that $75 wasn't much, but he probably figured the odds of actually having a fire affect him were small. It seems like people have a philosophy that "insurance" is necessary to be able to receive a benefit. If I don't have health insurance, do I not have the right to see a doctor? Sure I do, but I have to pay what the doctor charges me. Why should there be any other expectation in this case for the fire department?

    The fire department in this case had the means and the opportunity to help this family save their home and they chose not to. Not because of money, but because the government (in this case the mayor) decided to make an example of them. Whether they "acted appropriately" or not, this doesn't sit well with me and sets a very dangerous precident.
  13. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    Does the doctor have the right to refuse you if you lack health insurance?
  14. EricBess Active Member

    I don't know. But I don't know of many doctors that would. I would support a doctor's right to do so or to require cash up front. His income would be safer that way, but he probably wouldn't have as many patients. My guess is that if he had reason to believe that the guy might pay and he wasn't swamped with insurance based patients that he would be willing to do so.

    The emergency room is not allowed to refuse you and people who never plan on paying take advantage of this. But the difference is that they never plan on paying in the first place. For a legal citizen, the hospital has the recourse of sending your bill to collections, which could end up in garnered wages. Doctor would have the same recourse. The problem is the illegal aliens who you cannot track and cannot force to pay their bills.

    There is a difference, though. The fire department in this case is, for all practical purposes, a city-run monopoly. Given that they were his only recourse and he had offered to pay, I think that he probably has a right to sue the city for damages. Certainly not the fire department, though.
  15. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    I don't know. I believe there is an overall trend of the number of medical students choosing "general practictioner" is going downward; they want the "specialities" that pay more. So any doctor that you might see from "walking off the street" could very well be plenty busy; I, for one, have never seen a doctor's waiting room to be empty.

    Or unable to pay. I believe that was one of the reasons behind the big health bill last year? or this year (my, how time flies), to cover the otherwise uninsured so they don't use the emergency room as their primary care.
  16. train The Wildcard!!!...

    And gets thrown out of/dismissed from court all the time as the mental state of the individual is found to drastically different. Even so, there is no guarantee a judgement brings forth retribution, and in some states a judgement has no teeth.

    I can't say they acted irresponsibly, if they did what they were responsible to do, and fulfilled that obligation. But your opinion is noted. Your note on "Free Market" is almost right on. There are opportunities in free markets that are bypassed all the time for various reasons. If it was determined it would not be profitable for them to take the job, they wouldn't. Even if it could be profitable, if the risk is greater than the reward, over the long term, even in a free market, the job may not be agreed upon.

    In a free market, the demand still may not meet the supply when all is taken into account regarding the work, time, etc. involved.

    There is no law I know of prohibiting a doctor refusing service when not in an institution that must provide services according to law. (hospital emergency rooms, etc.)

    EB is correct - this does set a dangerous precedent - but it seems on the up and up at this time.
  17. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    I'm wondering if there's any other places in the US that does this... I'm thinking this county can't be the only one, there's a lot of counties and fire districts in the US....
  18. EricBess Active Member

    train - Just to be 100% clear on my thoughts here. You have exactly hit the problem in my opinion when you talk about profitability. Fires simply don't happen often enough for a fire department to be profitable in general. However, they are a public good and, as such, in my opinion, should be one area where government is involved. The problem here was that the county in this area takes no responsibility for fire protection, instead leaving it up to the city.

    BTW, I said that I felt they acted irresponsibly, but I don't feel like they did anything "wrong". The fire department certainly was just doing what they were told. I want to fault the mayor, but in retrospect, I'm not sure I can do that either. I think the mayor was wrong to try to make an example of them, but I understand where it might be a frustration of the mayor that these people expect service without wanting to pay for everyone to have it. This guy clearly only wanted to pay if it was he himself who reaped the benefit. To his credit, however, he was willing to pay whatever they asked.

    I think what it comes down to is that the mayor doesn't look at it like a business. He looks at it like a public good, which everyone needs to support. The guy with the house looks at it like a business and is willing to "roll the dice", which isn't a concept that even occurs to the mayor.

    Honestly, I think the approach is wrong, though. I personally believe fire departments should be a public good, so I think what should happen here is that the city should contract with the county, not with the individuals. By contracting with individuals, the mayor is treating the fire department as a business while still thinking of it as a public good, which leads to the misunderstanding and the guy's house burning down. The county has the right to tax the guy to help pay for the city's bill for fire protection, which is the issue that the mayor has in the first place. He clearly doesn't have a problem coverning the county, but he rightly wants to make sure that they pay their fair share.
  19. train The Wildcard!!!...

    I did a general search for "county charges for fire service" and a bunch of results hit. Some regarding criminal charges, others mentioning paying - and many times funds needed before service.

    For EB - I think we're close enough on the view... I can see fire departments being a public good - but don't know they have to be. City contracting with county would be the best route if arranged. Right now it seems the county's tax base is failing to provide this, and apparently there aren't volunteer departments close by.
  20. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    This would be a good time to see the minutes of the county's town hall meetings, to see why they decided to go this route when (apparently) they couldn't afford a fire service of their own and what the data and decisions were behind it.

    And if it's happened before in this county and if this incident just happened to hit the Net's awareness now.

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