Requiring residents outside of city limits to pay a $75 fee for fire protection is an ill-advised and unsafe policy, according to the International Association of Fire Fighters.
On September 29th, the South Fulton Fire Department in Tennessee refused to extinguish a fire ignited at the house of Gene Cranick. Because Cranick's home is in a rural area outside of city limits, he is required to pay a fee to the city for protection, but claims he forgot to pay.
Although no members of the Cranick family were harmed during the fire, three dogs and a cat perished. The house was left to burn to the ground, but the fire department protected their neighbors, who had paid the fee.
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) has condemned the "pay-to-play" policy of South Fulton.
"The decision by the South Fulton Fire Department to allow a family's home to burn to the ground was incredibly irresponsible," President of the IAFF, Harold Schaitberger, said in a statement. "We condemn South Fulton's ill-advised, unsafe policy. [Firefighters] shouldn't be forced to check a list before running out the door to see which homeowners have paid up."
"Anybody that's not in the city of South Fulton, it's a service we offer, either they accept it or they don't," said the Mayor of South Fulton, David Crocker.
Mayor Crocker claims to have looked at the issue of rural fire protection "100 different ways," but has not yet found a better solution to the problem than the $75 dollar fee. Comparing the policy to auto insurance, Crocker says if the fire department operated on a per-call basis, there would be no incentive for those outside of the city's limits to pay the fee.
"We are a city fire department," said city manager Jeff Vowell. "We are responsible for the City of South Fulton and we offer a subscription (to rural residents). If they choose not to, we can't make them."
Pundits on both sides of the political spectrum have also weighed in on the incident.
On his radio show Tuesday, Glenn Beck said, "What is the $75 for? To keep the firemen available, to keep the fire trucks running, to pay for the fire department to have people employed to put the fire out."
"If you don’t pay the 75 dollars, then that hurts the fire department," continued Beck. "They can't use those resources, and you'd be sponging off your neighbor's resources."
On MSNBC's Countdown Monday, Keith Olbermann blasted South Fulton's "a la carte government," mocking it as an example of "Tea Party America" where "you have to pay taxes for the fire department, plus a special fee."
On the other hand, one left-leaning blogger thinks the tea party shoe is on the other foot.
"The Tea Party loves to talk about individuality and smaller government," writes Sasha Brown-Worsham at The Stir. "They love to talk about self determination, but when their house is burning, who's on the phone the quickest, dialing 9-1-1?"
This time, the fire department said no. Good on them.
We can argue all day about the morality of that, but the line has to be drawn somewhere. You don't get to refuse to pay your taxes and then wonder why the government services you so "don't need" are no longer available to you.
Bureaucracy is an awful thing, but paying $75 is not. It's part of living in our society and although it's sad that Cranick lost his home, the lesson is clear: We don't exist in a vacuum.