Ever forget to pay a bill? Has your cash flow ever forced you to choose which bill to pay late this month? Most of us experience this at some time. We expect consequences, and figure this in when it's a cash-flow issue. There might be interest added, making the bill higher when it is paid. There might be a stoppage of credit, an interruption in service. But in your wildest dreams have you ever thought that the penalty might be having your house burn to the ground and your pets killed?
If you think it can't happen here, in this country, it just did. A Tennessee family forgot to pay the $75 fire department fee, and the fire department stood by and watched their home burn, with three dogs and a cat inside. By now you've probably heard the story. It's "gone viral", shocking the great majority of us.
But the policy behind it does have its defenders. These are the people to whom the word "taxes" is anathema, who support the idea that a service as basic as fire protection shouldn't be taxed for but should be billed individually. It's the very epitome of right-wing, Tea Party, Libertarian political philosophy. Its end result is what happened in Tennessee. Those who can pay get the services. (The fire was put out next door after it spread to that home. They had paid.) Those who can't or who forget to pay, or even try to pay late but are refused the privilege, suffer terrible consequences, justified as if this were normal. Or even moral.
What would have happened if there had been a child inside?
I chose to believe that our local fire departments would never participate in this kind of horror. They are dedicated people who want to do something good for their world and their neighbors. Moreover, they should never have to be placed in the position where watching a house burn, except as a training exercise, while they stand by is even an option. After all, here we tax everybody to help pay for the services of police/sheriff, fire, roads, and all the other things that we, as a society, have decided should be due to everybody. Not just the rich.
Think about this when you chose to vote for a philosophy that holds taxes to be evil, that public services should be cut until they are cut out. This incident is not some weird fluke, orchestrated by some evil people way on the other side of the country. This is the logical extension of a distorted philosophy, and you have the opportunity of ushering it in where you are.
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Being an imaginative person, one who possibly reads too much mystery fiction, for me the story doesn't stop here. I fill it in with "what-ifs."
What if there was a child inside? What if the homeowner had a gun in his vehicle? Can you see the possibilities for violence there? Hold a gun to the head of the chief, telling him to order the rest to rescue the child and fight the fire. Perhaps, like so many people, the animals are just like family members: same scenario. Maybe there's no coercion, just the homeowner opening up on the whole squad. I could understand that impulse.
Personally, I like to add an ending to the story that involves a high-powered lawyer and a huge lawsuit. Not just against the fire department but against the city manager who forbid them to fight the fire when called. (I heard he was reached at his country club. Factual or not, it's the perfect image.)
What kind of a society are we heading for?