Fire Departments And Homeowner Insurance

A few years ago the fire department in South Fulton, TN made national news when rushed to the scene of a house fire and —

Let the thing burn to the ground.

It turns out that the family hadn’t paid their $75 annual fire protection fee:

Firefighters aren’t afraid to break down windows and doors to douse flames, but a Tennessee family’s failure to pay a $75 fee stopped firefighters dead in their tracks last week as a home burned to the ground.

South Fulton, Tenn., firefighters stood on the sidelines, watching as flames engulfed Gene Cranick’s Obion County home. They refused to help because Cranick had not paid an annual “pay to spray” subscription fee.

“I just forgot to pay my $75,” homeowner Gene Cranick said. “I did it last year, the year before. … It slipped my mind.”

The city of South Fulton charges that $75 fire protection fee to rural residents who live outside the city limits. When a household has not paid the fee, firefighters are required by law to not respond.

It turns out that when you live within the city limits you pay taxes that support things like fire departments.  But when you live outside those city limits, and avoid paying those taxes, you do not get to enjoy things that those taxes pay for.  Things like fire stations.

The outrage was all the rage at the time.  My liberal talk show hosts couldn’t stop talking about it for days.

Not surprisingly, I took the Libertarian approach:

If you want fire station protection, you should pay for it; if you don’t, then don’t.

As predictable as it was that I would take the Libertarian approach, it was just as predictable that it would be laughed at and held to the highest degree of scorn.  The usual arguments were made with all of them tying into the general meme that:

If it’s a good idea, then the government should do it.  Else no one will.

Which, of course, is nonsense.

Anyway, the idea of fee based fire protection is taking off:

BELL COUNTY, Ky.—When fires or medical emergencies beset this rural county in the Appalachian foothills, the volunteer fire department races to the scene—seemingly free of charge.

But residents can’t take their fire service for granted much longer. Declaring it needs a hefty cash infusion to continue to operate, the Bell County Volunteer Fire Department this year started asking residents and businesses to pay a voluntary, annual subscriber fee, ranging from $60 to $150. Without the help, “we’ve got two years, max,” said David Miracle, assistant fire chief.

A growing number of volunteer fire departments, most of them in the rural South, are asking residents to pay an additional fee for firefighting service, though not for such things as responses to medical emergencies, which make up most fire-department calls. This throwback to a centuries-old practice comes as public budgets get slashed and local donations dry up.

I suspect that this is the beginning of the privatization of such services.  And all for the good I say.  As people continue to think through these dilemmas they are going to find very market-centric solutions are very reasonable and obvious.

  1. Banks are not going to allow homes they finance not have fire protection.  They will either add the cost of the service to the loan or require that the home owner pay for the service.
  2. Home owners insurance will not write policies on homes that are not covered.  They too will either factor in the cost or require the home owners to purchase the service.

Both are effective.  For example, I just got this letter in the mail last week:

Hi Pino,


Underwriting is requesting us to send them information if you have a hydrant within 1000 ft. of your home?  Will you please let me know so I can tell them.  Looking forward to hearing from you.


I live outside the county line, do not pay city taxes and therefore do not have hydrants in my neighborhood.  My home owners insurance has been adjusted upward due to this fact.  I knew it when I bought the house and I’m at peace with the arrangement.  However, if the insurance goes up TOO high, I will adjust my mindset and perhaps lobby the neighborhood to get those hydrants installed.

I suspect the same would be true of fire protection from local fire stations.  Insurance companies would have the actuarial tables handy and be able to adjust the cost of insurance to reflect the fact that the fire station will not put out fires.



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