It’s happened again in Obion County, Tenn. Firefighters were called to the scene of a house fire, but when they arrived, they didn’t put out the blaze. Why? Because the homeowners hadn’t paid the $75 fire protection fee. If the story sounds familiar, that’s because the same thing happened last October. And back then, just like now, it sparked quite the debate.
Before we look at what happened last time, WPSD-TV reports what happened this time to Vicky Bell and her boyfriend:
“In an emergency, the first thing you think of, ‘Call 9-1-1,” homeowner Vicky Bell said.
Firefighters came out.
Bell said, “9-1-1 said they were in fact dispatched and they showed that they were on the scene.”
But once on the scene, they only watched.
“You could look out my mom’s trailer and see the trucks sitting at a distance,” Bell said.
For Bell, that sight was almost as disturbing as the fire itself.
“We just wished we could’ve gotten more out,” Bell said.
It’s a controversial policy that we’ve dealt with before. If you live in the city, you get fire protection but if not, you have to pay the $75 fire protection fee each year. With this policy, the city makes no exceptions.
“There’s no way to go to every fire and keep up the manpower, the equipment, and just the funding for the fire department,” Mayor David Crocker said.
Bell did admit that she and her boyfriend were aware of the fee but simply refused to pay because they never thought they would be hit by a fire:
That’s a similar story to Gene Cranick, the homeowner who lost his house last year when it burned down to the ground after he didn’t pay the fee either.
Last October, his incident garnered national attention. Keith Olbermann called it a sign of Tea Party America, another blogger said it was an example of “what would happen if we let basic government decisions be made by right-wing ideologues,” and Glenn Beck siding with the fire department. You can listen to his thoughts below:
If you’re still confused, here’s some background from our report last year:
Kevin Williamson gave a little more background on South Fulton’s policy and argued that the $75 fee is actually an example of expanded service:
Dan, you are 100 percent wrong.
The situation is this: The city of South Fulton’s fire department, until a few years ago, would not respond to any fires outside of the city limits — which is to say, the city limited its jurisdiction to the city itself, and to city taxpayers. A reasonable position. Then, a few years ago, a fire broke out in a rural area that was not covered by the city fire department, and the city authorities felt bad about not being able to do anything to help. So they began to offer an opt-in service, for the very reasonable price of $75 a year. Which is to say: They greatly expanded the range of services they offer. The rural homeowners were, collectively, better off, rather than worse off. Before the opt-in program, they had no access to a fire department. Now they do.
Back then, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg noted that the incident would lessen the chance of the same thing happening in the future.
“Here’s the more important part of the story, letting the house burn — while, I admit sad — will probably save more houses over the long haul. I know that if I opted out of the program before, I would be more likely to opt-in now,” he wrote.
Vicky Bell must not have been paying attention.
What do you think? When we posted the story last year, we posed a poll. We’re going to post another similar poll to see if your thoughts have changed. You can see last year’s results here.