I am outraged that I cannot drink your milkshake!

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.

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2 Responses to I am outraged that I cannot drink your milkshake!

  1. JLB says:

    That policy has been in effect for 20 YEARS, since 1990. It sucks that his backyard fire got out of hand, but 1) he should’ve prepared for that with a garden hose or a few ABC extinguishers, and 2) he damn well knew about the policy. If you’re going to (probably illegally) burn stuff in your backyard, you might remember to pay the fee first. No sympathy for that guy. And the media, as usual, takes the shortest and most sensationalist view of the events, blaming the fire department through the entire story short of the last minute of the broadcast. The FD was doing what it was told to do, and ends up with the black eye b/c that creates the tag line for TV viewers.

  2. Josh says:

    The most outrageous aspect of this issue to me is the response by the IAFF. From their letter, “South Fulton wants to charge citizens outside the city for fire protection. We condemn South Fulton’s ill-advised, unsafe policy. Professional, career fire fighters shouldn’t be forced to check a list before running out the door to see which homeowners have paid up. They get in their trucks and go.”

    Uh, and we wonder why the fire service loses funding and takes on unnecessary risks to continue providing service? This is the organization that is supposed to be ensuring the safety of its firefighters. I’m not sure how championing the cause of a citizen who paid $0 and expected full service treatment. How does that in any way make sense?

    Personally, I think the FD did what it had to do. No life was at stake. Firefighters have no moral obligation to risk their lives to protect PROPERTY of someone who chose not to protect it himself.

    Plain and simple, if it’s not worth $75 to the homeowner, why should it be worth the life of a firefighter to the incident commander? Answer that question well and you may sway my opinion, otherwise this incident falls on the homeowner and the local government.

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