Fire Fighters Refuse to Fight Fire, Homeowners Forgot to Pay Fee

Discussion in 'Politics' started by spidergoat, Oct 6, 2010.

  1. Bells Staff Member

    In Australia we used to have to pay for ambulance cover in the State I live in. If you failed to pay, they would still come regardless and then collect afterwards if required. That used to be the old system and many found it to be unfair as those who are poor, for example, were not able to pay the fees every year and the risk was deemed too great. The new system in the State I live, a levy is placed on the electricity bill and that way, it covers everyone equally, regardless of whether you have paid or not.

    At no time would they refuse to come if you had not paid your electricity bill or if someone is not on the grid, for example. Their role is to respond. Not check to see who had paid and not paid. And this covers all range of help you may need from an ambulance, be it one driving to the scene of illness or accident, to helicopters coming to winch you to safety, etc. It also covers you if you go interstate as well.. In other words, everyone in the country gets ambulance cover and the cost of it is shared amongst all residents in one way or the other.. Much like our medicare levy which offers health care to everyone.. The cost is minute and is shared amongst everyone. And everyone is equally covered.

    I find this situation sickening. As you say, lives could have been lost. As it stands, a family lost their home and all their belongings, along with their pets, for $75.. which they refused to take on the spot.. It is like a doctor watching someone have a heart attack and refusing to render aid because he was off the clock at that time.

    And what is even more sickening is that people can defend someone losing their home and pets for $75. There is no defending this. There is also no excuse for it. It is inexcusable that an emergency service like the fire brigade, can actually refuse to render aid because of an unpaid fee.. And then refuse to accept the payment of the fee because it was past it's due date and watch the house burn down, quite literally.
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  3. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    I don't know if this has been mentioned before but this man who lost his home had fire insurace that will replace everything , except his pets of course and make him whole once again. So although he lost his old home, he will have a new one built that hopefully will be more fireproof than the old one.
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  5. Bells Staff Member

    Let me get this straight..

    You actually think it is good that a family lost their home, belongings and pets over a $75 bill that the fire department refused to accept payment of because it was too overdue by then (when he'd offered to pay them the bill and more)? Is that what you are saying?

    Would you have been touting the same tune if someone had been injured or killed? Tell me, what is a life worth to you? Can you put a dollar value on it? What about those pets?

    Most importantly, what is the dollar value of a moral and ethical obligation in your corner of the wrold Buffalo? If someone dropped of a heart attack in front of you, would you ask for payment before dialing 911? What if someone had a car accident in front of you? Would you render aid? Or would you ask if they are insured first? Would you ask if they'd paid their service fees first?

    What if there was someone trapped inside that house. Do you think they'd have been justified in sitting in their trucks and watching the fire burn down the house for $75?

    It is astounding to me that you can even try to justify someone losing their home over a $75 bill. Do you have no decency? Is the difference between right and wrong worth a service fee to you?
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  7. adoucette Caca Occurs Valued Senior Member

    No, they don't pay CITY taxes and COUNTY taxes don't pay for this service.
    I agree, the set up was not well thought out.

    No the Funding logic is sound from the perspective of the City that is collecting the fee and providing the service.

    Its an emergency service put in place to protect the people and property of those who lived in the City. They then offered their service on a subscription basis to those who did not live in the City and pay city taxes.

    Nope, he does not pay CITY taxes. He pays County Taxes and they are not the same. I know, I live in the city and my tax rate is much higher than my county neighbors.

    Its FUNDING model is EXACTLY like the funding model of insurance.

    The article said it was the Fire Chief who made the call. Don't take it out on the fireman.

    As I said, assuming no legal issues were involved, I think the FC made the wrong decision, but the ROOT problem lies in the funding model. You really can't have emergency services like this on a subscription basis. They need to come up with a County wide plan or the City needs to let the County provide the service themselves.

  8. countezero Registered Senior Member

    I'm sorry but I fail to see where this analogy wants to go as it strikes me as completely inapplicable.

    It's not a tough call to me. The Chief should have shown some humanity and done his moral and professional duty, rather than behave like petty bureaucrat.

    You seem to be ignoring the petulance at work here, too, the unspoken "I'll show him" and "I'll set an example" that is at work. The man offered to pay. The Chief declined the money, preferring instead to go strictly by the rules and allow tens of thousands of dollars of property -- to say nothing of the emotions attached to that property -- to go up in flames. And all for a $75 non-payment? At what point does an appeal to common sense seem warranted to you?

    That's a hell of a society you're asking us all to live in, if you think a public servants' duty is soley to their organization and the political body that governs it. That is a formula for serving the organization and the politicians at the expense of the citizens, and as such, is the exactly wrong way around from what the country was founded on, from what any system worthy of the name democracy is founded on.

    In your world, people would hide organization misconduct from the public, tow whatever political line is there for the towing and damn the consequences to those they ostensible serve. You can have that world. I wouldn't want to live in it.

    Or, to come at it from another angle, why does a person become a fireman? Is it because he wants to serve his community by being first responder? Or is it because he wants to serve the fire department and the city? I suspect most firemen, on some level, would claim a call to public service, to some higher moral purpose. Well, the public and the moral purpose, in this case, were on fire right in front of them -- and they did nothing.

    Oh, make no mistake, that fire dept. was there and would have been there with or without this man's money or indeed the money from anyone in the county. It was a city fire dept. and was funded by the city's taxes. The $75 was just for servicing areas beyond the city.

    These kind of service agreements are tussled with between city and counties all the time, and typically one govt. just wants reimbursement for sharing something it already funds anyway. In my experience, typically the govts. just charge each other and then figure out how to pass it on to the taxpayer through taxes. I've never heard of a fee for first responders.
  9. adoucette Caca Occurs Valued Senior Member

    And that's how fire service should be.

    The City probably should have never consented to providing service on a Subscription basis, and if they decided to do so they should just suck it up if someone called who didn't pay.

    Of course if they do that, then there is a good chance that a lot of people won't pay. If enough people don't pay, then the cost structure would force the City to drop the service, but regardless, a system shouldn't put fireman in a position to have to decide if they can help or not based on someone paying a fee.

    Even in the City, the fire dept doesn't check to see if you have paid your taxes before they come.

  10. adoucette Caca Occurs Valued Senior Member

    I've said several times now that the Fire Chief made the wrong decision.

    The firefighters could have disobeyed the Chief, but with no human lives on the line, that's not a likely outcome.

  11. adoucette Caca Occurs Valued Senior Member

    The City should not have made individual contracts with County residents.
    The City shoud contract with the County to provide the service to all County residents or failing that, fire prevention should be the County's responsibility.

  12. visceral_instinct Monkey see, monkey denigrate Valued Senior Member

    I don't know how anyone can even argue over this.

    You don't watch someone's pets die and their home burn and do nothing. End of.

    There were other FAR more appropriate responses, such as hosing the fire and collecting the bill later.
  13. visceral_instinct Monkey see, monkey denigrate Valued Senior Member

    So it's ok to let an animal die? When you could just open those fucking hoses if you chose to?
  14. Nasor Valued Senior Member

    I can't imagine an animal abuse law written in a way that would put the city at risk for such a thing.
    Sure. But it's the COUNTY government that screwed up by failing to provide a fire department, not the city government. You're pissed at the city fire department for not putting out a fire that they were under no obligation to put out.
    If having a "per basis rate" wouldn't be an example of a contract that was voidable because it was made under duress, I'm not sure what would be.
    It chose to offer its services to people outside their tax base who elected to pay for it. I fail to see why this automatically makes them responsible for the entire county.
    You presumably didn't agree to your credit card contract under duress. If you did, you could indeed probably refuse to pay.
  15. adoucette Caca Occurs Valued Senior Member

    I don't know where you live, but around here, getting to be a fireman is a HIGHLY sought after job.

    It's also much like the police and the military, there is a strong chain of command structure. You don't disobey your commanding officer.

    So, in this case where the Fire Chief is the one saying NO, and there are no human lives on the line, it's not likely that the Fireman will disobey him.

  16. madanthonywayne Morning in America Registered Senior Member

    I can understand why they can't just let someone pay the $75 fee once their house catches on fire (that would be like not having to pay any insurance premiums until you got sick); but why not simply charge a much higher fee (say $2500) in such an instance rather than letting someone's house burn to the ground?
  17. spidergoat Liddle' Dick Tater Valued Senior Member

    Why charge a fee at all? When your house burns down, you need charity. A fire department is just the cost of having a community.
  18. madanthonywayne Morning in America Registered Senior Member

    It's a service that has to be paid for. If you call 911 and an ambulance comes to your house, you will sure as hell be getting a pretty big bill for that in most parts of the US. I don't see how this is necessarily different.

    Pay the $75 in advance and be covered if there's a fire, or take the chance and pay a much higher fee if you're not "a subscriber". That seems resonable to me and far superior to just letting someone's home burn down.

    Alternatively, the people of the county could vote to raise taxes to pay for the fire dept. But that's up to them.
  19. joepistole Deacon Blues Valued Senior Member

    Just because your imagination is limited, it does not mean these liabilities do not exist. No try to imagine if a human life had been lost because the fire department was sitting on its hands while a family burned alive. Do you think it possible a sympathetic jury might award a large damage claim? Responding to a fire and not acting puts the city at legal risk wither or not you want to acknowledge it.

    I think that is pretty obvious.

    I am not pissed. I am amazed at the backward nature of the governments involved here.

    Then a little education in the law might be beneficial. There is no case for duress here. Duress is a high legal standard to meet.

    If they failed to respond, that is one thing. But they did respond. And they should have planned for this kind of contingency in a way that does not place the city at risk. As mentioned by others they could provide the service and charge for it after the fact as many municipalities do around the country today. Just sitting on your hands while the house burns is a throw back to the way things were a couple of centuries ago.

    Yes, and when I signed for my credit cards, I did not sign under duress and they cause me no problems. I pay them off in total by month end.
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    You'd be surprised. The doctrine of sovereign immunity only applies selectively in the United States. The federal government tries very hard to make sure that none of its departments or employees can be sued or prosecuted for anything they do "in the line of duty," but the states and municipalities are a little more open to liability.
    There's no law in America requiring municipalities to maintain fire departments. This country is one giant experiment. If you're so antisocial that you want to take the risk of living in a place where no one will bother you, even if they see smoke pouring out of your eaves, you can find one.

    I daresay a lot of Americans would prefer to live in a community with no government police force, and simply hire security personnel who would do exactly what they want and nothing more, e.g., not enforcing morality laws. Unfortunately places like that aren't so easy to find.
    Because somebody who refuses to pay a pittance for fire protection probably doesn't have $2500. And if he does, he's probably an ornery old codger who simply won't pay up.

    America runs on economics, not morality.
  21. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

    I disagree. The $75 payment was an insurance one would obligate an traditional insurance company to provide fire insurance to this guy *after* his house was on fire...or, if one did require it, then you can expect moral hazard will destroy your insurance industry.

    Same thing goes here. Had the fire department merely let the guy off paying the $75, then there is no incentive for anyone to pay that $75 in future until their house was actually on fire. It would be stupid to do otherwise and pay early. The net effect of that would be that this fire department would most likely stop offering services art all in neighboring communities, and those communities would need to put together their oen fire departments (volunteer or otherwse).

    Another option is for to charge the late payers the full cost of providing the service plus a penalty for the "late" payment...but the issue there is that some people will later refuse to pay when they get that bill. In this case, was the fire chief supposed to negotiate that fee/penalty? The 911 operator? Neither of them has the power to bind the city, and the city may not want them doing the negotiationg.

    Plus, when the fire department sends a bill for $5,000 - $10,000, do you think the homeowner would pay it? He couldn't afford $75 the first time around. Even if this particular guy can afford it, how many people who didn't pay the $75 would not be able to afford the higher amount? How many of those would simply roll the dice not buying the fire department coverage and then refuse to pay the full bill if it happened to come to that, knowing that they'd just default on paying the invoice? The problem with those who have no health insurance is that they still run to the hospital when sick (because the law requires treatment), then refuse to pay the bill. The same situation seems likely to occur.

    The real story here seems to be that this man failed to buy the fire department's insurance for his home, the moron then set fire to barrels of flammable material next to his house, then he blamed the fire department for the ensuing distress he felt because they could have saved him from his two prior moronic acts (though not without risk and cost to themselves). This is not making an example of him, it's personal responsibility in action. If that happens to lead to this idiot's buying fire insurance next time, or at least considering it before he sets fire to barrels full of leaves, that's a good thing.

    Your rule seems to me to lead inevitably to the fire department refusing to provide any coverage to neighboring communities, since you'd put them in the collection agency business--chasing down all the deadbeats that refused to buy coverage and have not paid their post-fire invoices. That is not going to be their forte, and it's a system that hasn't worked out very well in the other big industry that is forced to live with it: hospitals.

    But this is an issue of the seen and the not seen, as Bastiat would put it. In your world, the fire department needs to take on collection agency services and continually hunt down those who got fire fighting services ex-post. That is going to change their operational model, and there is no reason to believe that those changes will result uniformly in *increased* coverage for all. It likely will result in some people, getting better covereage (the people who did not pay the $75, but now have access to service) and due to the added expense involved, in other people (who did pay for the coverage) getting worse service. The decline in service may be slight, or it may not, but some day someone's house is going to burn down because of the difference, and those losses will not get press coverage. So we give an advantage to the visible anecdotal example, and foist a cost on the guy whose losses are seen only as "statistics".

    As for hiding these sorts of things, we do that all the time. Many doctors go to great lengths to keep their home addresses and phone numbers private because they don't want patients contacting them at all hours or at home. We should be clear that this behavor means that the doctor is happier to let patients suffer rather than give them easy access. Of course, because the problem is that they can't contact the doctor, there is a nice and comforting shield that allows us to ignore what might be seen as callousness if the doctor looked them in the eye and told them to go away—but the result is exactly the same.

    The fire department, in contrast, is a public entity whose inner workings are easily seen and is entirely open about its policy. No political machinations are involved that I can see.

    And they might be wrong for doing so because, again, of the not seen. Saving this guy's house puts a strain on a system with limited resources. You might try to get this guy to pay for the use of the resources, but he may or may not pay. In order to break even on an expected value basis he has to pay *more* that the value of the resources expended, to account for the default risk and there is not always a price that completely commpensates you for the loss (because, the higher the price, the more people will refuse to pay the bill, so at some point your set revenues decline as you charge more). Additionally some of those resources, like the firefighter's time, may never be fully recompensable in terms of a cash payment at any price that is reasonably likely to be recovered.

    If the firefighters act solely on the basis of what is seen and immediate, they may cause far more harm to those who remain not seen. Whatever action they took then, they couldn't simply treat this one case as special and then ignore the pleas of the next homeowner...because he'd sue and likely win for their arbitrary and capricious decision to deny him services. So whatever rule they come up with, will likely need to be applied across the board in all cases.

    If they went with your rule, the waste of resources on the deadbeats who refused to pay $75, as noted, could cause the fire department to cease offering any services outside its own community. Then those outside who otherwise would have paid the $75 and been happy are left at risk.

    The original fire companies were all private and thy all worked in exactly this way. You paid them money and they gave you a plaque to hand on your building. If there was a fire, they would fight it only if your home had their plaque out front. It's not terribly surprising to me that someone used the same model for these extraterritorial services.

    Besides, from what I have read, the homeowner seems to have made a conscious decision to not pay for their coverage. Whatever "you've heard of", he knew what he was getting into. Does the fact that you are not famliar with the arrangement mean those contracts should be impermissible? Does it mean they this fire department should be bound by law to provide this guy with services he refused to pay for in the first place, on demand, because he later changes his mind?

    I assume you'd never in a million years suggest that private companies should be treated that way? (For example, a local bank refuses to hire my private security company to protect its facility. One day when they are being robbed, the bank manager calls me and demands immediate service. Presumably you would not say that I am obligated to provide that service and send my security people over, under your theory of forceable contract.)

    As a city taxpayer, I would not feel obligated to finance the stupidity of people in neighboring communities by either providing them with subsidized fire protection services or assuming their credit risk when providing those services. As a taxpayer, faced with your forceable contract theory, I'd demand that my city either require that moron's community to agree to be liable for all charges (assuming *they* are creditworthy) or that we provide no service whatsoever outside the city limits.
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2010
  22. quadraphonics Bloodthirsty Barbarian Valued Senior Member

    Fire protection is as much a service to the community as a whole, as to the individual property owners who are unlucky enough to need a fire put out. I.e., being confident that your neighborhood isn't going to go up in flames enables a lot of valuable activities. Like building neighborhoods, or investing in existing ones. And so it should rightly be paid for by the community as a whole.

    Meanwhile, it's unclear to me how the fire department even avoided any expenses by refusing to put out this fire. They still had to suit up and drive out there to control the fire, prevent payed-up houses from burning down, ensure that public property was preserved, etc. I'm not seeing the savings - although I am seeing the drastic damage to property values in the neighborhood, now that they have a burned-out house owned by a financially-ruined family on the block, along with the confidence that this will keep happening (and no way of knowing which houses on the block are payed up, and which aren't). Would you want to live in such a neighborhood? I sure wouldn't - and I'd seriously consider moving away if such an inanity was introduced where I do live.

    The only possible upside I can see is that this will scare everyone in town into paying their $75, and they'll end up with universal fire coverage just like every other town. Except there's easier, more humane ways of achieving that end than destroying the lives of random families over $75. They're called "taxes."

    Apart from that, it's sort of funny to see a bonehead libertarian social experiment literally go up in flames.
  23. madanthonywayne Morning in America Registered Senior Member

    So garnish his wages, seize his bank account, whatever. It will turn into a giant pain in the ass for the guy who didn't pay the fee and encourage everyone to pay without letting people's houses burn down.

    My city will send out a crew to cut the lawn of property owners who let their lawns grow for too long. The property owner then gets a bill for $500 for said service. This serves as a pretty good deterrent, as would a high fee for services rendered by the fire dept to non-subscribers.

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