OBION COUNTY, Tenn. - Imagine your home catches fire but the local fire department won't respond, then watches it burn. That's exactly what happened to a local family tonight.
A local neighborhood is furious after firefighters watched as an Obion County, Tennessee, home burned to the ground.
The homeowner, Gene Cranick, said he offered to pay whatever it would take for firefighters to put out the flames, but was told it was too late. They wouldn't do anything to stop his house from burning.
Each year, Obion County residents must pay $75 if they want fire protection from the city of South Fulton. But the Cranicks did not pay.
The mayor said if homeowners don't pay, they're out of luck.
Daniel Foster at NRO makes an excellent point:
I have no problem with this kind of opt-in government in principle — especially in rural areas where individual need for government services and available infrastructure vary so widely. But forget the politics: what moral theory allows these firefighters (admittedly acting under orders) to watch this house burn to the ground when 1) they have already responded to the scene; 2) they have the means to stop it ready at hand; 3) they have a reasonable expectation to be compensated for their trouble?
The counterargument is, of course, that this kind of system only works if there are consequences for opting out. For the firefighters to have put out the blaze would have opened up a big moral hazard and generated a bunch of future free-riding — a lot like how the ban on denying coverage based on preexisting conditions, paired with penalties under the individual mandate that are lower than the going premiums, would lead to folks waiting until they got sick to buy insurance.
But that analogy is not quite apt. Mr. Cranick, who has learned an incredibly expensive lesson about risk, wasn’t offering to pay the $75 fee. He was offering to pay whatever it cost to put out the fire. If an uninsured man confronted with the pressing need for a heart transplant offered to pay a year in back-premiums to an insurer to cover the operation, you’d be right to laugh at him. But imagine if that man broke out his check book to pay for the whole shebang, and hospital administrators denied him the procedure to teach him a lesson.
I’m a conservative with fairly libertarian leanings, but this is a kind of government for which I would not sign up.
Beats me. Obviously, promising to pay and being able to pay are two different things, but Gene Cranick runs a small farm and it did not appear from the television video that we are talking about renting helicopters or anything special - the local fire department seemed to have sent sent a tanker truck and some good old boys to man it. [Per this discussion from 2008, the local towns bill $500 for a rural response but collect less than half the time and have no legal means to enforce the collection.]
In this local coverage the mayor offers his own insurance analogy and discusses moral hazard, but never ponders the question of whether Cranick could have been charged some higher amount:
South Fulton Mayor David Crocker said city officials don’t want to see anyone’s house burn, but he emphasized that South Fulton has a city fire department which is supported by city taxes in order to serve its residents — with a rural fire subscription service made available outside the city limits to county residents in the city’s designated rural coverage area.
“We’re very sorry their house burned,” he said.
Mayor Crocker said if the fire department operated on a per-call basis outside the city, there would be no incentive for anyone to pay the rural fee. As an analogy, he said if an auto owner allowed their vehicle insurance to lapse, they would not expect an insurance company to pay for an unprotected vehicle after it was wrecked.
Well yeah, but I wouldn't expect a body shop to refuse to fix the car if I offered to pay myself.
Brain lock in a small town. Or, a cash-strapped mayor determined to make a point about a problem that has been controversial for years.