Some of you may remember the story about firefighters allowing a house to burn and pets die over $75 last year. Well, the pay for spray policy strikes again. It happened once again with the South Fulton, Tennessee fire department.
Another homeowner was forced to watch their house, and many possessions, burn to the ground, all because they didn’t pay the $75 “pay for spray” fee (known as a “fire subscription fee”). And, according to reports by WPSD, firefighters were right there watching as well.
Were The Firefighters Wrong?
The point of this article isn’t really to debate the actions of the firefighters in this particular case, but if you want to know my opinion, you have to read what the article revealed about Vicky Bell (the homeowner) first…
Bell and her boyfriend admitted they were aware but thought this would never happen to them.
They knew what the policy of the South Fulton fire department was, but they choose to ignore the fire subscription fee and simply take their chances. Now that their terrible gamble has come back to hurt them, they want the rules to be ignored and everyone to feel sorry for them.
I have sympathy for them because I know what it is like to make a horrible decision and live to regret it. However, they have no right to blame anyone else for their circumstance. They intentionally ignored the fee, and now they have to deal with the consequences. This is similar to the recent phenomenon of elderly foreclosure “victims” (although, sometimes even Bank of America foreclosures go wrong).
The Need For A Pay For Spray Policy
Since some of the rural areas in Obion County are too small to be able to support a fire department of their own, the city of South Fulton is kind enough to make their firefighters available to them. Instead of the residents seeing an increase in their property taxes, they are simply asked to pay an annual fire subscription fee of $75.
This way, they are helping to offset some of the operating costs of the fire department – especially since they now have the added responsibilities that come from servicing other areas. If someone doesn’t want to pay to support the fire department, then they don’t have to.
The mayor of South Fulton, David Crocker, stated that if they do not collect the fire subscription fees, then they can’t survive. He also noted that if they make exceptions to this rule, no one will ever pay the fee.
The Moral Dilemma With Pay For Spray
If a homeowner doesn’t pay the fee (whether by choice or if they forgot), then they are not able to access the services of the fire department for that year.
It is quite common for the residents of a rural community to pay a fee to the fire department of a nearby city, in order to secure their services.
As with the case of Gene Cranick in 2010 (the article I linked to above), the firefighters were simply following the rules and obeying orders. I’m sure that it was extremely difficult for them to fight their natural instincts and training, in order to properly carry out their duties.
The moral dilemma is simply the fact that they had to stand by and watch a home burn to the ground. They were not able to help by putting out the fire, or even trying to save some of the home owner’s possessions.
Every time someone who didn’t pay the fee suffers loss from a fire – and the fire department didn’t help them – there is a public outcry. Many people talk about how immoral and despicable the firefighters were, and declare that they should have helped the people despite their refusal to pay the fee when it was due.
A debate naturally ensues, between those who feel that the homeowner shouldn’t expect to get a service that he refused to pay for, and those who feel that the firefighters should have risked their jobs and lives no matter what!
I can see both sides of the argument, but I think there is something else which must be considered first.
Pay For Spray And Insurance
Here is what I wrote last year when making this comparison:
This is no different than insurance: You pay a fee (premium) for protection from a future event that may or may not happen. If the event happens, you’re covered; if it doesn’t, you don’t get your money back. No insurance company will let you wait until your house burns down to take out a policy! You must have the coverage BEFORE the incident.
Since Vicky Bell (the homeowner), decided not to take out a policy, she wasn’t eligible to file a claim [on the service] when she faced an emergency! I can’t get into a car accident without insurance, but then expect an insurance company to provide me with their service during an accident (even if I tell them that I’ll pay on the spot)! There are smarter ways to save money on car insurance.
You can’t have people decide not to pay, but be given the option to pay the fee at the time of an accident. As, Mayor David Crocker stated, doing this will remove the incentive for people to pay beforehand. This would ultimately lead to the fire department not receiving enough funds to cover the additional operating expenses associated with adding new towns to their responsibilities (unless there happens to be an abundance of fires in the rural communities).
Whether it’s home contents insurance, natural disaster insurance, hurricane preparedness, or any other consumer insurance information or coverage you can think of; you need to ensure that you are prepared for the worst (even if you plan to use an emergency fund to cover damages) at all times. Having regrets and trying to pass the blame won’t help you get through a disaster!
I think we can find a way to satisfy the insurance element of it being optional, as well as the moral dilemma that comes when “uninsured” homeowners are in danger of losing their homes.
How To Fix Pay For Spray
Treat it like other emergency services. There are two emergency situations which immediately come to mind. Health problems dealt with in the emergency room of a hospital, and roadside assistance.
The great thing about both health insurance, and roadside assistance is that they greatly reduce (and in some cases eliminate) the costs associated with the emergency service. In both of these cases, you are not required to buy insurance ahead of time (this maintains the “optional” quality of the pay for spray fee).
However, if you need emergency treatment or to have your car towed, you can still access the service, but you will be charged the full cost!
The same can be done with the pay to spray fee. Give homeowners the option of paying the $75 premium at the beginning of the year. If they choose to pay it, then they will be covered for the full cost of the fire department services they consume during that year. If they don’t consume any, they don’t get their money back; as is the case now.
If someone who chooses to forgo coverage has their home catch on fire, they can still receive the service, but they will be charged the full cost! I am not sure what it costs to send a team of firefighters with trucks and expensive equipment to put out a fire, but I’m sure it’s a lot more than $75.
This way, we will never have a case where firefighters watch as a house burns to the ground. Also, most homeowners will choose to pay $75 each year for a service they most likely will not use, rather than pay thousands or tens of thousands of dollars when they actually need it.
Before the firefighters put out the fire of someone who refused coverage, that homeowner would have to agree to it. If someone doesn’t want to pay all of that money, they can choose to let their home burn to the ground.
There are probably two objections to this stipulation:
What If A Neighbor’s House Is In Jeopardy?
If there is a chance that the fire will spread to a neighbor’s home, then it must be put out, no matter what the desire of the uninsured homeowner is. They will then be billed for the full cost.
We have to make sure that one uninsured homeowner doesn’t cause a financial burden for his neighbors. This is why many states require car owners to have at least liability coverage on their vehicles.
What If The Homeowner Isn’t Home?
If the uninsured homeowner isn’t home and their house catches on fire, the fire department will automatically put it out. This will guard against it spreading while they are waiting for them to come home. Also, this is necessary to ensure that there are no unresponsive people trapped inside.
If someone was unconscious and in the middle of the road, they would immediately be rushed to an emergency room. No one would sit around and wait for them to wake up so they could be asked if they want to go, and if they agree to pay whatever the costs are.
We would do the same thing for an uninsured home that caught on fire. Err on the side of caution and take care of the emergency, even when it’s not 100% clear if the person actually wants help.
How Would The Fire Department Guarantee Payment?
This would be handled as any other unpaid debt. First, it would how up as a negative record on their credit report. Then, the fire department would simply put a lien against the house, for the amount of the debt as well as any debt-collection costs.
Think about what would happen. If he wasn’t willing to pay for the service – meaning that he was willing to lose his house and have it burn down – then he would just lose his house to the fire department instead of to the fire.
Most likely, they would have some level of insurance on their home. It can be mandated that the fire department receive their payout directly from the insurance award, unless other arrangements are made ahead of time.
On the other hand, if he actually wanted to have his house saved, he would be willing to work out a payment plan with the fire company. Then none of the debt collection measures would need to take place.
Having these procedures in place would encourage most of the residents to agree to the $75 fee (or insurance premium), since they understand the consequences. It would also ensure that no one who wanted or needed emergency services would be deprived of them, even if they don’t initially buy the coverage.
It also allows the fire department to be able to receive enough money to extend their area of service, and be fully reimbursed when they have to provide their services to someone who chose not to contract with them.
photo by dvs
What Do You Think?
- Do you think the firefighters were wrong for not ignoring the regulations and their orders?
- Should the homeowner(s) be held fully responsible for this loss?
- What do you think about this proposed solution to the pay for spray policy?
- Do you live in a town that has to contract with another city for emergency services? If so, has this ever happened?