Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Fiery Dilemma

Today it was plastered all over the internet news: A house burned to the ground while firefighters stood by and watched, because the residents had not paid their annual $75 fire-protection fee. You can read all the details here: Yahoo News Article. Just as food for thought, why is it that a house can be described as either "burning up" or "burning down" in the same set of circumstances?

Pictured above: A completely irrelevant house burning

Anyway, at first glance, it seems to be heartless of the firefighters to just stand by while a person's home goes up in flame. Especially considering the prices of homes and how many years and years of hard work it takes to buy one of those. On second thought, though, it seems clear that if all the community relies of how heartless it would be for the firefighters not to put out a fire on their house, even if they didn't pay dues, then none of them would feel inclined to pay. Whereas, if they realized that their own house *actually* burning down was a real risk, they would be lining up down the street to pay $75! Even to slap on a fine of $1,000 might not motivate people, because it's so much easier to imagine that you'll never need the insurance, and then if you hit the situation, you'll pay for it then. Americans do have the tendency to think that the world owes them, and therefore would be outraged when they don't receive a service which they had every chance to subscribe to, but choose not to.

In other words, letting the house burn to the ground was just, but it was not merciful. Strike the scoffer, and the simple will become wary. People will realize that safety is not magically guaranteed, and will take the deal more seriously. Rather than learning that they can get away with not paying, they will learn that justice does not bow to the American "you-owe-me" mentality, or popular vote (which would have gone in favor of putting out the fire.) So, I can readily understand and every support where the firefighters were coming from on that one.

But, you know me, I'm all heart. I would go with mercy. If the justice was about something horrible like killing, or even a habit like stealing, then I might justly let a person's house burn to the ground. But for a small amount of money? I would question the system, because deciding that the *only* way to make people pay dues was to show them that deliverance was not a right. You see, I like to show mercy, when it's at all feasible (but not when it would be inappropriate)

In some places, we still have volunteer firemen in this country, people who would put out fires for no money at all -- and surely that's loving. If I had been in charge, I could have put out the fire, and then pressed supervisors about how badly it would have gone if I hadn't, even though they hadn't paid, and propose to make it a mandatory fee (like car insurance.) The system may be better if you just slap people with a $1,000 fine if you have to put out a fire when they weren't "insured" like that. Alternatively, it could be better if those sort of things are covered in taxes, like they are where I live. I mean, of all the silly things our taxes dollars go to work on, fire protection easily ranks high.

So, I would have mercy on the poor people and save their house, and then re-think the system so that we could get the money we need/want, and people still don't end up having to beg and plead and cry while their house burns down before their eyes. Even if their proud lack of foresight justly deserves that disaster.

4 comments:

Peter Pike said...

I'm sensing an extortion racket ready to happen.

"You say you haven't paid the $75? Well, that's a nice house you got there. Shame if something were to happen to it. How about you give me $20 to ensure no one happens to flick their cigarrette into your back yard some night..."

JD said...

This is fairly crazy, there are plenty of much better ways to get money than to let the house burn. One method I like to solve the problem, and until now didn't even realize there was any other way, is to have it included in taxes. Yes people shouldn't have to pay for what they don't want or don't think they'll ever need, but when included in taxes, the amount paid would probably be even smaller than the already small amount of $75, which is why I'm baffled that they didn't pay it to begin with.

Another idea would be to slap a hefty fine on anyone that has to have firefighters come and didn't pay under the current system they have. That way no one is forced to pay for services not rendered, but can still have the help if actually needed. But will also incentivize the people to pay from the start. Yes, this is similar to your previously listed idea, but yours was more like a slap on the wrist. I'm talking more like $10 thousand or $20 thousand here, which is an amount no will be wanting to pay or even think about paying.

@ Peter, there's no extortion here, this is not the extortion you're looking for. (waves hand in a Jedi mind trick way)

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