For those of you who have not heard this story already, a house in rural Tennessee was allowed to burn because the owners consciously chose to not pay $75 towards the fire protection district as part of their property taxes. There is a lot of talk about this incident, much of it irresponsible. I do not think the situation was handled as well as it could have been.
The fire department acted properly since there were no people trapped inside the house. Had their been lives at stake I would have expected them to help remove the people while doing the minimum of fire-fighting to keep the firefighters safe. These people opted out, and are not entitled to use a service that they snubbed at tax time.
Here is a nice dilemma, you are renting a house, and unbeknownst to you the penny-pinching owner has "opted out" of paying for fire protection. Let's hope this could never happen for an apartment building or a home-owners association.
That said, the fire department made several crucial mistakes. First, there should be a prepared statement on hand at the station and with each of the vehicles for such circumstances. What I have in mind is having it written out in full, sort of like the Miranda warning for police, so that firefighters do not have to improvise and accidentally say anything that could come back to hurt them. There should also be a sort of FAQ so that common questions have ready answers when citizens ask for clarification.
Finally, there should be a one-time price tag for them to come out. I am thinking in the range of 40-100 years worth of paying the tax because we want it to be prohibitive to discourage this sort of behavior. There should be a contract that the home owner should have to sign upon their arrival. It should be very clear, and should provide for the bill being paid within 90 days or so, and have clause that enables the fire protection district to put a lien on the property (house and grounds) without further court appearances if the amount is not paid by then.
Is this brutal? Yes, but this family took a brutish stand by not paying into the system. I read that one of the firefighters was assaulted for not acting to save the house. OK, I dare anyone to justify assaulting a carpenter for not helping you fix up your house for free. Try to justify it.
If something along the lines above were implemented, I have no trouble watching a house burn down when there are no people inside. Perhaps because there is uncertainty in this world, and people may be inside at any time, we should just expand fire protection districts and take the opt-out option off the table. Wait, that would be socialist! Or would it just be fair?