You’ve heard about this already, the home that burned in Tennessee while the firefighters watched. (My tweet yesterday linked to the insurance angle here.)
I’m sympathetic to the FD and the town of South Fulton on this one, and I think the Cranick family is the victim of incompetent government in their own community.
Fire services are like insurance and if you only charge for them after the fact, you have the classic adverse selection problem. Few will buy the service until they desperately need it. Then, the FD isn’t selling protection, it’s selling loss control. The prices are a lot different, and running an FD on a pay-as-you-go basis is far, far different from running one along the lines we are used to, and really not practical.
Anyone whose house is burning down will tell the fire department he will pay anything to save the property. Is the battalion chief supposed to provide an estimate? Run a credit check? Produce a contract? This is all uber-libertarian silliness.
And I feel sad for the family, but the need to buy fire protection didn’t arise yesterday. Watch the entire four-minute clip. The $75 fee has been public policy for 20 years. A house burned down two years ago in exactly the same circumstances, so there wasn’t a history of forgiving nonpayment. The Cranick family couldn’t have been too surprised, or shouldn’t have been. They made a tragic, tragic mistake.
The ultimate blame here lies with the township the house resides in. Its politicians should suck it up and pay for fire protection, then assess a tax. That tax would come to $1.50 a week – probably quite a bit less – and if the politicians that vote for that tax get voted out of office, well, buddy, you’re getting the government you deserve.
It can be hard to convince some people that public services serve all of the public. For example, would you like to live next to a burned-out house? Would you want to locate a high-tech sophisticated business amid an uneducated populace? (Bermuda is grappling with that issue right now.) The lack of these services hurts everyone in your community, whether everyone uses the service or not.