Most of you have probably heard about the fire in Obion County, TN, the one where a rural homeowner had to watch his home burn down because he didn’t pay the fire department fee. This seems to be serving a lightning rod by those on the left side of the aisle (where I usually roam, honestly), decrying this as a sign of what conservative, small government/free market administration (read: Tea Party) could lead to.

I think that’s pablum. The specifics of the situation here is a little different than what’s being painted.

First of all, the county doesn’t have a fire department. Period. There have been obvious efforts to fund one (here’s the proposal from 2008 to establish one, that  never got funded) . So those that live outside a municipality that has a fire department can opt to get coverage or not. In other words, none of their tax dollars are going to pay for the upkeep of the fire department, so if they want the benefit of the service they have to pony up.  Makes sense to me, and since the responding fire department isn’t funded by the person getting the service, I don’t see where they automatically qualify.

The fire department in question, South Fulton, comes from a small community of 2500 people. According to the aforementioned proposal, the county proposed giving South Fulton $60,000 in order for them to drop their subscription fee and provide service to the rural constituents. That’s not a trivial amount and implies that right now, if South Fulton was to provide service gratis, that that would be a $60,000 burden on that small community.  But the county refused the new “taxes” that would be needed to provide that service.

So the person who didn’t pay and expect service – even paying at the last second – is a bit of a moron.  And to make him even more moronic – HE started the fire in a couple of burn barrels, and the fire got away from him. The biggest tragedy is not that this guy lost his house (and I suspect his insurance company is going to give him a hell of a time over not paying the fire department fee), but that his pets perished in the fire. That pisses me off – not against the firefighters, but against the homeowner again. By all accounts, the fire was slow moving took some time to get to the house. Why not gather your pets as the first thing?

The only argument for coverage that would hold water with me is that if there was someone in imminent danger – someone trapped in the house, or some other imminent danger to a person. In that case, then the firefighters would have a clear duty to save the people inside, but not the property itself. If this was not a rural area, then I would even accept the argument that by dealing with this fire, they are potentially saving other lives by preventing the fire from spreading. But this is a rural area, and the fire department put out the fire when it threatened the neighbor (who did pay the fee).

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