A couple of weeks ago firefighters in rural western Tennessee stood by and watched a house burn down. Some of my friends say this is an example of the heartlessness of the world we live in now. I don’t see it that way.
The firefighters were members of a municipal fire department that provided fire services outside the city limits for people who paid a $75 annual fee. The men whose house burned down “forgot” to pay the fee. Firefighters came because his next-door neighbor, who did pay the fee, called 911 because he was afraid the fire would spread. The firefighters put out the fires that spread to the neighbor’s property, but not the original fire.
From what I read, there was no question of the homeowner’s ability to pay. He had fire insurance, although not enough to cover his loss.
Some reports said that he complained that others who hadn’t paid the fee were allowed to pay up on the spot, but the firefighters refused to help him no matter what he offered. Some said firefighters were called to his house once before, and put out the fire even though he wasn’t paid up then.
Reading between the lines, my guess is that what happened is that the firefighters decided to make exceptions a couple of times, and then found this was becoming a pattern. After all, why pay for a service you may not need if you can get it without paying in advance? I think that at some point, the mayor said, enough, and no more.
I have sympathy for the homeowner, just as I have sympathy for anybody who suffers a major loss as a result of an oversight. But I don’t think the firefighters are obligated to provide protection for anybody whether they pay or not.
There is an expense in operating a fire department and it has to be paid by somebody. Now you can have a volunteer fire department, and support it through voluntary contributions. Or you can have a municipal or county fire department, and support it through taxes. Or you can say that people should decide individually whether they want to pay for fire protection or do without. All these are reasonable possibilities. What’s not reasonable is to expect the service without paying anything for it.
Click on Firefighters watch as home burns to the ground for news article and video footage on the fire.
Click on Libertarian fire department lets house burn for debate on the morality of the sitution, with additional links
Click on Let it Burn or Not? for more debate on the morality of the situation, with more additional links.