One of the political footballs of the news cycle has come from our own humble corner of the world. It seems a city fire department in Tennessee charges homeowners out in the county a voluntary fee for fire service. No ticky, no laundry. If you haven’t heard about it yet, you should familiarize yourself with Rhett Fleitz’s take on the brouhaha. The bright lights and dim bulbs of the media have weighed in from left and right; old media like Keith Olberman and new media like the Volokh Conspiracy, the Huffington Post, and libertarian heavyweight Reason.
Everyone wants to make hay out of this. It’s one of those issues in which any side can see a plank of its own platform. Not surprisingly, I have little sympathy for this guy who not only failed to pay up, but also set fire to his own yard.
I think the American fire service ought to thank the fire chief and mayor in this town (and they haven’t backed down in the face of withering criticism and at least one physical assault on a firefighter). The issue here is larger than just this case; like some of the more obnoxious bloviators out there, I will use it to make my point.
The fire service is hurting. It’s being kicked in the teeth right and left and being made a scapegoat in scores of failing local polities. The fire service often answers by overextending itself by doing more with less, thereby injuring firefighters and under-covering other citizens. Citizens who believe the line of crap from the politicians that 10% cuts in a fire department’s budget won’t affect service should see the consequences of the cuts. This guy didn’t pay his $75 annual fee to the fire department, lost his home, and now he and his neighbors are super pissed about it and it’s national news. This incident is a ready-made thought experiment in fire service cuts. If only every citizen could feel the costs of underfunding so acutely and visibly. If only every American and Canadian could see the costs of cutting fire service every time something burns down due to understaffing.