Your House is on Fire: Quick, Call Ghostbusters

This morning I slept late, and was at least partially awakened by the furious barking of my next-door neighbor’s three dogs.  Since this isn’t a terribly unusual situation, I thought nothing of it, but when it continued, I peeked out and saw there was a fire truck, a fire marshal, a sheriff’s deputy and two or three other vehicles parked outside the neighbor’s house.  There were no flames or smoke or otherwise external signs of fire, so perhaps it was a kitchen fire.  Nor was there a burn pile–these neighbors at times have burned such huge piles of leaves and limbs that the entire neighborhood is covered in smoke.  At such times, the neighbors (including me) have been known to call the fire department.  The fire department will come and no questions asked, they will put out the fire.  It doesn’t matter whether they judge it to be safe.  They put it out, period.   

I’m sure you know what this is leading to. 

Firefighters Watch House Burn.  I was shocked enough by the snippets I’d heard of the story, but after reading this article, I was simply outraged–because the family’s three dogs and one cat were inside.  I wondered why the fire department even showed up; then I guessed it was to put out the fire if it spread to another house–assuming the other household had paid the $75 fire service fee. 

The issue seems to be that the fire department is operated by the City, and the homeowners in this case lived outside the city limits.  So you had to purchase fire service individually. 

In my situation, the fire department is operated by the City, and I also live outside the city limits.  But in my case, the County pays the City to cover those of us in the County.  Let’s suppose, though, that our firefighters responded to a call that turned out to be on the County line, and the source of the fire was just over the line into the next county.  Do you think they would stand there and let the house burn down?  With pets inside? I’m completely sure they would not. 

While taxes support our fire department, recently an ordinance was proposed here, which would tack on a fee to you if the fire department actually had to respond, whether that was a house fire or a vehicle accident.  So, I thought, our taxes are paying them only while they’re doing nothing?  The anti-tax people came out in droves, saying this was double taxation, and the ordinance failed.  I agree with the opponents of this ordinance but for this reason:  fees of this nature are the chicken’s way out.  Politicians have become allergic to saying, we have to raise taxes. 

There are certain situations where I believe fee-for-service is entirely appropriate.  Take for example, parking.  The City operates parking garages, and there is a fee to park in them.  So only the users contribute.  The difference is, people have alternatives.  They can park at a meter, which is cheaper.  They can walk, ride the bus, or bike. 

But if your house is burning down, you don’t have an alternative.  Who you gonna call?

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5 responses to “Your House is on Fire: Quick, Call Ghostbusters

  1. masteroftheuniverse

    In my hood, we have a private fire dept that assesses us $125/year. The county won’t respond on my key for political reasons beyond my reasoning. The local FD will put out a fire for people who haven’t paid their assessment, but then charge a whopping minimum of $700 and up. Although I pay my assessment, it seems that ambulence fees are extra as Ifound out when I went into shock after fire ant bites and they charged me $700 which my insurance covered. Several years ago, on our key, the local fire department haqd a controlled burn of a hous that was to be demolished. Sad thing was that they got the wrong address and burned down a snowbird’s house….that made the national news. Hey, should look at the funny side, one less snowbird family:)

  2. It wasn’t a kitchen fire, and it wasn’t my next door neighbor either. It was two doors down from them. From today’s newspaper:
    “Investigarotrs probe Laris Drive fire. The Tallahassee Fire Department and State Fire Marshall investigators are trying to determine what caused a pre-dawn house fire Sunday in the 2800 block of Laris Drive. The lone occupant of the house escaped unharmed from the structure in North Tallahassee. But when six TFD units and the Lake Jackson Volunteer Department arrived at 4:30 A.M. they encountered heavy fire with a large section of the roof collapsed. A dog perished in the fire. Red Cross was called to the scene to assist the family. The house and all its contents–valued at $150,000–are considered to be a total loss, according to TFD.”
    Can you believe I slept through this?
    The house is a burned-out shell. It was also one of the few wood houses in the neighborhood, built on stilts and surrounded by trees, right on the edge of the ravine which is a forest. It’s amazing the woods did not catch fire. I was happy no people died, but very sad about the dog. I was so depressed this morning when I read the article, thinking it was one of my sweet neighbor dogs, until I came home and saw which house it was.

  3. > But if your house is burning down, you don’t have an
    > alternative.

    Then, they should have paid their fire bill. I don’t believe for a nano-second they “forgot.” They believed that if there was a fire, then “of course” the FD would come.

    As for the “fee” aspect, it is an attempt to circumvent the 10-mill cap on taxes. Effectively, there is no longer a cap. Just come up with a “fee” for something that has been in the property tax and….

    Time for the Legislature to cap fees too.

  4. I think even the proposed ordinance was something like Jeff suggested…the FD would respond and do what needed to be done, but would bill you for responding. I’m sorry, but I cannot picture a fire department standing still while a house (okay, in this case it was a mobile home, but it was home) burned down with pets and all a family’s belongings inside. It’s like a lifeguard watching you drown because you didn’t pay a fee to use the beach. I see no difference. Where do you draw the line? Certain professions…you pledge to save life and property.

  5. That “fee for service” isn’t limited to FDs. I recall some city in Florida (I believe) also wanted to charge for ambulance service to car crashes, even if the ambulance was not used, because it “responded.” Public outcry squashed that….

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