Viewpoint: Somebody has to pay
Houses burning down and fire departments not putting fires out, as occurred in Obion County, Tenn., in September, are nothing new, they are just news once again. It’s ridiculous, but not new. To be clear, any fire department on any scene should generally put the fire out. In this case, I think the fire department should have put it out, and then billed them for all the costs or just figure it all out later.
However, there is a lot more to this situation. Keep in mind, with the economy and related politics (some places are using the economy as a political excuse to cut fire departments even though they can fund them, as are others that do have genuine fiscal problems), stuff is going to burn down. Even with great funding, stuff burns down. But, to have a fire company arrive and not put out the fire is, as some wrote, “shocking.”
Can you imagine if you forgot to pay your insurance bill and then filed a claim? Would the insurance company insure you and handle it later? Ask the Gecko. See what he says. The point is that fire departments cost money, and the elected officials of Obion County do not want to fund a fire department and haven’t for years, according to area fire chiefs. They do not want a tax-funded fire department, and apparently the taxpayers don’t either, at least not as a whole, otherwise they would tell their elected officials to implement one.
Rumor has it that the fire chiefs of Obion County have worked for many years to offer the county elected folks a proposal of a fire tax or have them just fund the eight municipal fire departments in the county for a reported $360,000 total to provide all residents of the unincorporated areas of the county a fire service. However, the elected county commission refuses to force a tax on its citizens. Local firefighters also were advised that the homeowner who lost his house in the Tennessee fire was sent three letters reminding him of his fire dues, and after that was called three times. Each time, the property owner said he would pay, but after the third phone call, the fire department dropped his name off the list. They still should have put the fire out.
Of course, little did I know that the fire department subscription was set up 20 years ago because someone else’s house outside city limits burned, and the city wanted to provide service to those residences where there is no other fire service. However, city taxpayers did not want to fund a free fire department for non-taxpaying residents outside their city. No one does.
The bottom line is, if a fire department shows up at or near a fire, they should put it out. If they want to limit exposure to legal action or bad publicity, they should not respond outside their jurisdiction. An archaic system that determines who gets fire protection based upon billing is a whole lot different than residents of the rest of North America are used to. However, if the elected officials do not want to fund a fire department, it’s their choice. If the residents care, they need to speak up, vote, join up or never forget to subscribe.
Maybe the fire departments in Obion County should have a credit card system, where the residents get billed annually automatically, unless they choose to opt out. Just imagine the ad: “Your fire department: We’re everywhere you want to be.”
Fire departments, paid or volunteer, cost money, and those who want a fire department need to pay, one way or the other.
What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.
Billy Goldfeder is deputy fire chief of the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department in Ohio and serves in several national roles, including as chairman of the International Association of Fire Chiefs Safety, Health and Survival Section, the Board of Directors of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and runs the website www.FireFighterCloseCalls.com.