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The Burning Issue of Feudalism

Last week, a home in Tennessee caught fire and the firefighters arrived, but they let the house burn to the ground because the owner had not paid his $75 “subscription fee”. Even when the owner offered to pay the firefighters to save the house, they refused.

What’s next? Police who refuse to stop a crime in progress because the victim didn’t pay enough taxes? Emergency rooms who let people die because they don’t have insurance (or are foreign visitors here legally on vacation)?

Does everything have to be about money? Well, apparently to conservatives, it does. Daniel Foster, a staff writer for National Review made the mistake of saying that the firefighters should have put out the fire. He was immediately jumped on:

Dan, you are 100 percent wrong. … The world is full of jerks, freeloaders, and ingrates — and the problems they create for themselves are their own. These free-riders have no more right to South Fulton’s firefighting services than people in Muleshoe, Texas, have to those of NYPD detectives.

Another conservative turned it into a morality tale:

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. No solace to the homeowner, but an important lesson for compassionate conservatives like our own Dan Foster (Zing!). As Edmund Burke said, example is the school of mankind and he will learn from no other.

I guess the compassionate conservative is now officially dead.



  1. Irene wrote:

    The South Fulton, Tennessee, fire department’s decision to allow a home to burn and pets to die, is a disheartening demonstration of the conservative mindset of “strict father” morality, harsh punishment in the name of “discipline,” and the complete lack of compassion or empathy. Perhaps they were following the advice of one of the right’s darlings, Ayn Rand: “If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.” Frankly, that’s not my definition of “civilization.”

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010 at 11:04 pm | Permalink
  2. A. O. Moss wrote:

    Well, they’ve still got their lives. And without a house he’s freer, right? Liberty. But, uh, pursuit of happiness? Especially if theyre underwater with their mortgage.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 2:41 am | Permalink
  3. Ace Justice wrote:

    wow…just wow.

    I’m a libertarian through and through, but even the staunchest libertarians I know still support basic civil services for free. Theres fiscal restraint and then theres anarchy, and this is certainly the latter.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 4:39 am | Permalink
  4. ebdoug wrote:

    I pity the people who live in red states.

    When my house burned, the dogs died. The volunteer firemen (I’m a blue state) took the dead dogs, threw them in the middle of the fire to cremate them so I wouldn’t have to deal with them when I got back from vacation.

    I couldn’t get out of California fast enough when Reagan was elected Governor.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 6:32 am | Permalink
  5. When we have to start directly paying for services like firefighting (which many of us do), ambulances (which we do), and law enforcement, down goes the idea of public service and up goes a protection racket.

    “Public Services” will be motivated by profit and not the common good.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 7:15 am | Permalink
  6. Bert and/or Ernie wrote:

    And where would responsibility lie if the fire had spread to an adjacent house?

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 8:54 am | Permalink
  7. Bert and/or Ernie wrote:

    Does anyone recall the story of early firefighters, when they were independent and competitive? That they would block each other in an attempt to gain a monopoly in an area?

    It seems the next logical step would be to allow competition…

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 8:58 am | Permalink
  8. tenthirtytwo wrote:

    Bert, if I understand correctly they were actually AT the house for that very reason. They had everything ready to hose down the neighboring houses, should the fire have spread. They just didn’t do anything for this guy’s house.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 10:07 am | Permalink
  9. Ren wrote:

    I’m torn.
    I miss the days when neighbors joined together to help each other when help was required.
    Those days seem to be long gone.
    On the other hand….
    We pay these fees/taxes so that the fire department can meet payroll, buy/maintain equipment, and receive proper training.
    Offering to pay for a service only after you NEED the service would gut an extremely necessary program.
    A poor example (but the only one I can think of…): If you own a car, you carry insurance. If you get into an accident, then the insurance pays out. If you gamble on your driving skills and let your insurance lapse, you cannot offer to pay those fees after wrapping your car around a tree.
    Heartless, but fair.

    Standard disclaimer: I’m only a person trying to think logically. I don’t know exactly where/what the “subscription fee” goes to.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  10. patriotsgt wrote:

    Here’s a question, what do we pay taxes for? In particular, what do we pay property tax for?

    We need to look at the mismanagement of our tax dollars by not only the fed but state and local govt’s. If they cannot manage our dollars we should show them the door. They should consider it a priveledge to serve the public not their right to pay themselves whatever they want and to abuse their office.

    Here are more examples of local/state govt waste fraud and abuse. Money that could be spent protecting taxpayers.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink
  11. Chris wrote:

    The fee-paying neighbor’s house was saved, and to conservatives’ delight the first guy learned an important lesson: that when they say “love thy neighbor” in church on Sunday, it doesn’t mean dick.

    More importantly though, this conservative “philosophy” that is supposed to serve those who pay their bills will ultimately backfire on those very same people. The firemen were able to save the fee-payer’s house — this time — but letting houses burn to make a point inevitably increases the risk of every other nearby house from burning, whether or not those owners have paid their fee.

    Only when such a fire gets out of control and kills human beings will conservatives remember that people live in communities and firemen put out fires.

    And the cycle will start all over again.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink
  12. Iron Knee wrote:

    Ren, conservatives were using the ‘car insurance’ example too, but that is not a good example at all. If you get into a car accident, police will come and help, the ambulance will take you to the hospital, and the hospital will save your life. What car insurance will do is replace your car. If you don’t have car insurance, then you have to pay for a new car. The analogous situation would be if the man didn’t have homeowner’s insurance. After the fire department put out the fire, if the man didn’t have insurance, then he would have to replace his own home. In a fire, lives can be lost (apparently some pets died in this fire) and other property can be put in danger from the fire.

    And, in this case the man wasn’t just offering to pay the fees if the firefighters put out the fire, he was offering to reimburse the fire department for the entire cost of putting out his house fire. They refused, even though they were standing right there.

    I don’t see why this is confusing. If a hurricane sweeps through your state or an earthquake happens, the government will come and help. If you have a heart attack, the hospital will save your life. How is a fire different?

    This is common decency. Apparently, some people don’t have any of that. They care only about themselves. And yet some of them have the gall to call themselves Christians. I guess it is ironic that according to their own religion, they will rot in hell.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
  13. Sammy wrote:

    One other thing to consider is that it’s a flat $75 fee. So the owner of a 13,000 square foot house pays the same $75 as the guy in a 900 square foot house (if I’ve read the stories correctly). The homeowner of a smaller subsidizes the owner of a huge home, when the huge home would need more fire support. Wouldn’t it be better to do like 99% of the country and make it part of the local property tax system? Is it really a smart idea to make basic safety services such as fire and police voluntary??

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink
  14. ebdoug wrote:
    Here is the wife’s comments. These were grandparents of a 21 year old boy so they might be elderly. They said they “forgot” to pay. Many people can still live at home but may forget to pay bills. For that they lose their house.
    And again are we one nation “indivisible” or are we one against each other?
    Here the volunteers come out. You take them beer retrospectively after your house burns and make a donation of $25 a year ever after.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Permalink
  15. Ren wrote:

    I’ve just taken my own advice and done some research…

    Reavis said he operates his all-volunteer, unpaid fire department on $8,000 a year.
    Across the county, no cities’ tax dollars fund rural fire protection, he said.
    That’s common in many U.S. rural area.
    A plan for a tax that would cover rural fire protection was rejected in Obion County.

    It seems to me that the department could (and should) have taken late payment at the time of the fire. But then where is the incentive for anyone to pay their subscription fee?

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink
  16. Chris wrote:

    The question of where the incentive is for people to pay their fee before a fire happens (raised by Ren) is a good question. But one thing about living in a community (especially a rural one) is that reputations and shame are real social forces.

    In this case, if the volunteer firefighters had saved this family’s home anyway, word would have spread that the father had been too careless (or, in other cases, stingy) to pay the $75 fee to support the very force that saved his home. He would be embarrassed beyond belief, he would never make that mistake again, he would probably buy the firefighters a whole new truck as penance, and more importantly, the example would reinforce the social pressure for everyone else to pull their weight. House saved, firefighters funded, animals and people not burned alive to make a point – everyone wins.

    Granted, there will always be someone who will still refuse to pay, who is effectively outside of society. So what, a few of them exist in every community. Resentment over this tiny minority is no reason to abandon civilized society.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 8:01 pm | Permalink
  17. Dave TN wrote:

    I can’t speak for this particular part of TN, only the eastern part of which I reside. Here we have volunteer Fire Departments for residents outside the city which run on donations; I always contribute when I can. The state of TN is primarily a Republiecan run state these days, and being so, their form of compassionate conservatism rules the roost. The state has no income tax but it does have a sales tax of over nine percent. Also property tax is fairly high compared to neighboring states. This I know because I use to be a resident of one of them. There is a strong resistance to the raising of any tax rates or of creating an income tax, and woe be it to any politician who suggests it. That being said, money is tight for a lot of the small towns and rural areas. I can see the times being rough, but it should never make us rough on one another especially when times are tough. This was a complete lack of decency by the firefighters there; the firefighters at the World Trade Center didn’t stop at the door and wait to ask if they had paid their taxes. If we don’t learn from history, we are condemned to repeat it. In the past, firefighting was a competitive business and poor firefighting resulted. This is one area where the government should run the business and to keep it fair, property taxes should pay for it, with donations always welcome.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 8:26 pm | Permalink
  18. joover40 wrote:

    In my world (naive as I may be) a grandfather taking care of his grandson is aided by his community whether he remembered to pay the fee or not. If money is an issue (at $8K budget it certainly is) this action would probably result in more funds donated by the neighbors and the victims – but that would be icing on the cake of having helped your neighbor. It also would raise the awareness to those others who had not yet paid their fee – so funding issues resolved. Actually, in my world, protection of a home in my community would be expected.

    Really? There are people who think it is ok for a house to burn while fire fighters watch – boss, fees, politics nothwithstanding? I hope none live near me.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 9:37 pm | Permalink
  19. John wrote:

    So, if a person from one county who had paid there firefighting dues has a hissy fit with some bloke in another county and torches his house down, who puts out that fire? What a crock! When you people are willing to vote in pencil and put your votes in a cardboard box you come back to the rest of the world and then you can tell us all about ‘Democracy’. It seems the wagons are circling tighter and tighter

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 12:07 am | Permalink