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?