Burned-down House is Government’s Fault

Liberals have been beside themselves over an incident in Obion County, Tennessee where firefighters allowed a small home to burn to the ground because the homeowners had failed to pay a $75 annual fee for fire protection; an option given to each resident of the county. In typical fashion, the blame for this has been summarily placed on conservatism, libertarianism, and even Ayn Rand. The real culprit here is the government, not the private sector.

 Most people expressing anger over this unusual incident have not been honest with the details about this incident; and their demagoguery is not going to rebuild the home that burned down. 

The homeowners did call the fire department once they realized the blaze could not be put out with a garden hose; the call was ignored. Firefighters did respond to a call from a neighbor, who had in fact paid their fee, once the flames threatened their property. By this time, the fire had consumed most of the non-payer’s home.

Here are the facts that seem to have been ignored by many on the left. The fire department was not privately owned. It was contracted by Obion County from the City of South Fulton. This is a government-run monopoly, not a free-market enterprise. These firefighters were following the policies set in place by the local government, not edicts laid down by arguably uncaring capitalists.

This is not a failure of capitalism or of limited government; it is a failure of government. As Thomas Firey, managing editor of the Cato Institute’s Regulation magazine, notes, a private company would have likely put out the fire and sent the homeowner a bill.

While there is a legitimate argument to be had for local and county governments to provide services such as these, paid for by whatever taxes they choose, the unfortunate incident that took place in Obion County, Tennessee cannot fairly be laid at the feet of limited-government advocates.

130 comments Add your comment


October 20th, 2010
5:35 pm

I asked some simple questions but you will not answer. I guess I have to assume you would let the neighbor burn to death, even if he is a paid subscriber if the fire spread from an unpaid subscriber and it was the unpaid subscriber who called for fire service.


October 20th, 2010
5:39 pm

Contracturaly the county/city did nothing wrong. In rural areas there is no system promised or owed. The whole deal is on the home owner to make arrangements.

The city commission may be playing games or the voters may have voted for this set up.???
That is one reason I chose not to live in Morgan Ga.
A bigger concern for me was no Blues music.
No blues? No fire truck. Water taste like rust. I`m gone.

How are we doing Bob Barr? At the risk of being called a socialist I think Bob should split his check with us this week.

Bob?……….must still be on the golf course or shooting range or what ever this dude does?


October 20th, 2010
5:40 pm

There you go Mr. Spock. You can’t answer some questions and defend your position so your resort to name calling. A debate works only when you can defend your position.

Swede Atlanta

October 20th, 2010
5:47 pm

I don’t think Mr. Spock believes anything he is posting after I have re-read much of what he has submitted. So I will ignore him going forward.

I for one believe that a human being does not, regardless of the “rules” allow another person’s property or the lives of animals or other humans to be destroyed or placed in jeopardy for $75.00. It is immoral, unethical and inhumane to do so.

Secondly when it comes to fire or crime, these phenomenon spread. If the police don’t come and capture the burglar, there is great likelihood he/she will strike at someone else in the community. If you don’t put out a fire you endanger the lives and property of other persons. So even if in this case one person didn’t pay for the service, the interest of the common good dictates that you put the fire out.

Thirdly, a service like this, when it can be provided, should be provided universally in the community and funded not by an optional fee but through taxes. Accounting and other errors can result in someone having paid a fee but being denied a service when it is needed. That didn’t happen in this case but it is the very reason you don’t have a system like this. As I posted previously, if you don’t pay your property taxes you are not denied fire and police protection. The competent authority seeks to enforce collection through levy, lien and up to seizure of the property. If I don’t pay my income taxes the government doesn’t allow bad drugs to be sold to me, they come after me to pay my taxes.


October 20th, 2010
5:51 pm


“Contracturaly the county/city did nothing wrong. ”

I agree, contracturaly the did nothing wrong but is it ethically right. The city of Atlanta could decide to stop providing fire service and go to a paid subscription as well if they decided and continue to collect the same taxes. Not that it would be popular, but they could stop offering different services. The question becomes, is this good for the city and it’s residents. As fire departments pointed out in this particular county, it’s more about being a public-safety issue. One thing, as I pointed out, if people could choose not to participate and their house catches fire, what happens if it spreads to a neighbor’s house who is a paid subscribed but is either not there or is asleep and does not call for help.

Swede Atlanta

October 20th, 2010
5:52 pm

Skydog, from what I understand this particular policy is highly unpopular but the commissioners voted it in. If the voters are truly unhappy then they should vote the commissioners out. Unfortunately when people go to the polls they are likely to be fooled by campaign promises.

Pay for a service only if you need it…sounds good until you need it.

We have lost our way in this country where we recognize that we all have certain basic common interests. A la carte government is not the way to go. I have no children and never will. I guess I should be able to opt out of paying any school taxes and I should be able to reduce my state income tax by the amount that is used by the state to fund educational programs. That sounds really good to me since I don’t use schools and never will. But the reality is that as a society we need to educate our children. It is what being part of a community is all about – the common good.


October 20th, 2010
6:00 pm

My main question is this…..if you elected not to pay the $75 for the service, would the fire department still have stood outside saying “sorry, you didn’t pay” if there was children stuck in the burning house ?

Also, what if your neighbor didn’t pay and their house fire spread to your house. You paid, they came, but the fire still caused major damage to your home. What if the spreading fire to your home killed you or your family. It simply spread too fast to contain (ie..gas line exploded).

Keep in mind the historic NYC fire were a result of this. NYC at the time had a “pay for fire service” system in place and too many non-payers got involved. The fires got out of control and those who did pay got burned.

Swede Atlanta

October 20th, 2010
6:06 pm

Tracy, you are exactly right. Fire is one of those things that are a shared interest by all in the community because it spreads. You don’t want the home of any individual to burn and possibly spread to others. Further as a society there is something in my gut that tells me you don’t let someone’s property (and possibly human or as in this case animal life) perish over $75.00. There are things that our mothers and fathers should have taught us are just wrong. I can feel it in my gut. While I may feel it is also a violation of my religious beliefs it is a question of basic humanity and morality. It just isn’t right.


October 20th, 2010
6:59 pm

Let the house burn or let them die on the curb of the emergency is an option for some. Sad but true.

Capitalist turn socialist real quick when they realize the person sitting next to them on the airplane was refused treatment for TB because they could not afford it.

Mrs. Norris

October 20th, 2010
8:04 pm

John (at 12:29), Your comment to me has absolutely no bearing on what I said. It’s a shame people lack critical reading skills these days. And for the record, the city of Atlanta does not provide fire or police services to the citizens of Fulton County (Georgia). As I stated, they pay a special services tax to have fire and police services. Perhaps you’ve never heard of Fulton County Fire Dept. or Fulton County Police Dept. This systems has worked very well for the citizens of Fulton County and the thousands of other counties that do the same thing. My point is, that’s the reasonable thing to do.

Swede Atlanta, you made a very good point. What if someone hasn’t paid their property taxes, as many fail to do. Does the fire department refuse to respond? No, that would be outrageous.

Allyana Ziolko

October 21st, 2010
6:23 am

Bo, Barr certainly can be more wrong. Wait for one of his future ramblings.

This proves to me that Mr. Barr’s “Limited Government” has gotten squat figured out when it comes to running a community.


October 21st, 2010
8:36 am

Mrs Oleary’s cow rears her ugly head again. Some of the comments here seem authored by folks who were raised in a barn. When are we, as citizens, going to demand pasteurization, barn-yard etiquette, and mad-cow disease vaccines for all of our farm animals and blog trolls?



October 21st, 2010
8:51 am

…………or heaven forbid a country.
Bob helped spend millions on Clintons BJ while America sunk to the depths that we are at today.
I better hush. It says in his bio that Bob was/is/knows CIA.

I know your working for the CIA……..they wouldn`t have you in the Maf i a.
Why can`t we be friends?

That was a great group you missed back in the day Bob, named War.

I`m sure you liked the name if not the song.

Ken Starr

October 21st, 2010
9:00 am

I like Bob, he helped me get my house on the Cape. Well, ok, i bought the whole Cape.

Larry Flynt

October 21st, 2010
9:15 am

I have died today just so I can come back and haunt you further from the beyond. See you tonite in your dreams.

We had some times, huh bro?



October 21st, 2010
10:16 am

Just a fine example of the fine job the Gov. did for you…

A Gwinnett County grand jury on Wednesday indicted the county’s longest-serving commissioner, Kevin Kenerly, on charges of bribery and failure to disclose a financial interest in two properties the county rezoned.

If convicted of all counts, Kenerly faces up to 22 years in prison.
The indictment says that Kenerly “directly or indirectly” accepted or agreed to accept 20 payments of $50,000 — totaling $1 million — as bribes for arranging for the county commission to buy a piece of unnamed real estate. The deal benefited developer David Jenkins and settled a lawsuit, although specifics about the purchase were not mentioned in the indictment


October 21st, 2010
10:28 am

“I am sure the homeowner would have been happy to pay a $1000 fee after the fact.”
And if he is not, are you going to pay it? If not you then whom? What if the bill is more than $1000?

Per the homeowners indication to the emergency operator, there were no human lives at risk by the fire in this home.
I’m sorry the family lost their home and their pets, but THEY chose not to pay the $75 fee for fire service. While I have sympathy for them, I do not feel much empathy. They rolled the dice and lost.


October 21st, 2010
11:43 am

It seems the local government – that means the local citizens – did not want to make fire fighting part of the local government services. Maybe it would have cost more in local tax dollars to hire firemen, build a fire station, and buy fire fighting equipment than it would be for individual citizens to get that service from another source.

I don’t see how it is a failure of government. It seems more like a kind of insurance – you get fire fighter services when needed if the fee is paid. How is this not just another kind of insurance? Ins/t it okay for citizens of a community to agree to not be taxed for this service and to let each person decide if they will pay for the “insurance”?

Nope, not this time

October 21st, 2010
2:22 pm

So the total cost of running this department lies soley on the 75 per household? I think not. The salaries are supplied from the government taxes and that homeowner pays this. This 75 is a bonus to the fire department. The fire should have been put out and residents should not be paying the 75 fee at all. They pay for this service in local taxes.

Eric #2

October 21st, 2010
4:45 pm

Dave Briggman, I can’t agree with you or the others you cite. Government is meant for the greater good, and pooling money for fire protection is one of those “ethical” services to help all (just like 911 and ambulance service, etc.). Why would anyone want fee-based fire protection–whoever came up with that is crazy. Fire protection should not be privatized like a cell phone service.


October 21st, 2010
6:02 pm

So why did this county decide that it was not their duty to provide fire service? Would you want your county to “opt out” of providing fire protection? Why did they just not add $75 tax to every house in Obion County to pay for fire protection? Is the next step to make police protection “optional”? So if your daughter is being raped, the police come but refuse to interfere because you haven’t paid your “police fee”? There are some things that should not be optional, I am sorry, that includes fire protection and, yes, health insurance. No one should be able to say “I don’t want to pay for health insurance, if I get seriously ill, just let me die”, while knowing full well they will actually be treated and the costs passed on to us that purchase health insurance through higher hospital bills.

Furious (not liberal)

October 21st, 2010
8:20 pm

Some rescue units are charging now for cutting you out of your car (after the fact). How long will it be before they demand a credit card before they cut you out and leave you in your car to die if your credit card is turned down? I have been on a (volunteer) rescue squad before and we rescued people because they needed rescuing. Those “fire losers” are nothing but money-grubbing, do only what my job requires, moral indigents who deserve to reap as they have sown. I hope every one of their houses burn to the ground and I hope their loved ones are trapped inside.


October 21st, 2010
9:02 pm

Whoa Furious,

The fire fighters had bosses who told them what to do. The bosses had proceedures to follow from the city politicians. The politicians are doing what the voters instructed.

Your “hope their houses burn down with all their loved ones” comment needs rethinking, if not professional help.

I`d change your nickname from (not liberal) to (not normal).

Furious (not liberal)

October 21st, 2010
9:11 pm

And we should expand the Obion county policy to health care – if you show up at the hospital, you better have an active insurance policy or the cash in hand to pay for your services, or else you should be set on the curb and if you die, well, it’s your fault that you didn’t pruchase insurance.


October 21st, 2010
9:16 pm

There were no county government or services. This is common in rural areas. YOU are the county government and fire department.
This guy had an option offered by the city to sign up for service. The city is not obligated to cover the county folks.This was not an opt out deal. It was an opt in deal.


October 21st, 2010
9:27 pm

Let um die on the curb is an option Furious. A bad option.

Life is not ALL about the dollar.

Furious (not liberal)

October 22nd, 2010
6:21 am

Skydog @9:18 – So what do we have county governments for if not to provide services? Do they have county schools? Or or those OPt in also? Do they have a county sheriff? Or is that Opt in? Certain basic services should be required. It would have been better if the county just said ” you don’t want to pay taxes for fire protection, so nobody in the county has fire protection, and the city fire department will stop at the city limits”. Or a more reasonable option, if they imposed a $75 fee and expected everyone to pay it, is just add the fee to everyone’s taxes every year. If you don’t pay it they attach a lien to your property. A better question – if a $800,000 house was burning and the fire department found out they had not paid their fee, would they let it burn to the ground? I would bet my right arm that they would put it out. I have happened across two car fires in my lifetime. Since I carry a fire extinguisher in my car, I stopped and used it to put out the fires. I did not ask for a fee or even for them to pay to refill the fire extinguisher. From now on, I am going to ask the person if they are a Republican or Libertarian, and if they say yes, I’ll say too bad, you should have paid for and carried your own fire extinguisher. BTW, I really don’t wish the firefighter’s homes would burn with their loved ones inside. It would be fitting if the county council member’s homes burned (without anyone inside).


October 22nd, 2010
8:00 am

I didn`t think you were serious on the houses burning down.
One more time.
This county had NO county government, schools, cops, or services!
Nothing but you, a few neighbors, and the trees. This is common in rural areas. The whole country does not have power, water, and service grids already laid out and ready to go. There is NO county government established yet. You said certain services should be provided. By who? A city is not required to provide a county anything.

Let me try this.
If 10 of us moved out to remote Wyoming. Eight of us form a town and set up services that we tax ourselves to provide.
You and Swede want to live 30 miles out in the county where there are no other people, so no county government or services out there, just woods. After Swede, who are you going to elect for county offices?
So you come see us towners and ask can we help? We say we would love to but we only have enough money to cover our town.
We may agree to cover ya`ll for a agreed upon price or not. The state or the Feds are not required to help until a certain amount of people move into the county.


October 22nd, 2010
10:21 am

Bob, I am a conservative. The residents where this fire occurred vote more conservative arguably than anywhere in TN. A few points of logic and some questions…. Had this family paid the assessment before? Did they forget? Were they in financial straights? The conservative radio folks have shown the arrogance the left WANTS them to show and damages our movement. Had the fire department put out the fire don’t you think this family would be the FIRST to pay the assessment next time? Unlike the economic freeloader argument, don’t you think, had the fire department put out the fire that this case is the perfect example as to WHY PEOPLE SHOULD pay their assessment? Do you believe like the Beck logic that people would wait and freeload more often if the fire department put out the fire? Simply insane! We must be thinkers not idiots.

Chris J

October 26th, 2010
12:35 am

This is a matter of public safety. If houses are allowed to burn because people didn’t pay a fee it could spread. This is also the reason why we have building codes, 911, the FAA, and an accreditation system for the universities that our future doctors learn from. In an industrialized society one expects standards for safety.

If we as a country of people that let the houses of our neighbors burn, on 9/11 the terrorist would not have needed to hijack planes. Just buy some properties, don’t pay the fire protection fee, fill property up with poison, and set on fire.