Friday, January 27, 2012

Editorial: Moral obligations outweigh logistics

CVFD: Should we stay or should we go?
In discussing the awful story of a rural house burning down while the nearest fire department refused to respond because the homeowners hadn't paid for the service, the unnamed editor seems to say that "moral obligations," as he puts it in his headline, should stand above the few bucks involved, and that's good. But he says it in such a mealy-mouthed way that the editorial seems to have a foot on either side of the fence.
   This situation has come up several times since I've lived in Prescott, it always makes the non-responding organization look bad, and nothing changes, because it's accepted that the homeowners didn't pay, therefore they accepted the risk of losing their homes. Fire resources have to be reserved for those who pay.
   But consider this: CVFD is saying that it could have responded if the homeowner had paid, so the only real logistical difference between a saved house and cinder pile is a few bucks in the district's bank account.
   The editor's sadly muffled point is that if you have the ability to help, you have the responsibility to help. That makes a lot of sense to me. Either the fire crews can or cannot reach the scene and be effective, and if they can, their own organizational mission should require that they try. People get this instinctively. When larger-scale catastrophes occur, fire crews will transport out of state to help. It makes no sense that they can't respond to a fire at this house when they can to one a quarter mile farther down the same road.
   The core problem that the editor seems afraid to touch is the subscription system, which favors those who are more able to pay. This really needs to go, and rural communities have to start thinking in more inclusive terms than who's willing to put up twenty bucks a month. The system as it stands clearly does not work.

Update, Monday:  The CVFD chief responds in this Sunday story, but the focus remains entirely on the finances and resources and off the mission. The comments add some pertinent details, such as how close the house was to the district line.


Anonymous said...

"...subscription system, which favors those who are more able to pay."

If you live in the district, you pay for fire protection via your property tax bill. If you live outside you don't. If you don't pay for protection, why should you get it?

I just don't get the argument that it isn't fair, moral or doesn't work.

Justin Rains said...

It isn't moral (or fair, really) because the fire department admitted they could've gotten there to stop a family's home from burning, but didn't.

Plain and simple really.

A department that's sole purpose is to protect citizens from fire didn't, all because that family couldn't or didn't opt into a program.

I get that the family didn't pay for the service, but couldn't the department have saved the home (or tried) then worked with them on payment?

My question: Here in Texas smaller, rural communities have volunteer fire departments that service the areas outside of the bigger cities. Does AZ not? I don't remember from my time there.

David Lundy said...

Sort of parallels the mandatory insurance provision of the new healthcare law, doesn't it?

Steven Ayres said...

It's a challenging parallel.

A person comes to the emergency room needing immediate treatment, but without insurance or the ability to pay. As a society we've decided that the hospital is obliged to treat that person. Hold that thought.

Say a person drives to Chino Valley from out of state, and a defect in the car sets it on fire on Main Street. The person is not at physical risk, and has never paid a cent of tax in Chino Valley. Is the CVFD obliged to respond to the fire? Of course it is.

So with that context, let's look at national health care. We understand we have an overriding social value on human life, as well as a high value on responding to any acute distress in our community if we have the ability, regardless of taxes paid. Having people sick and helpless in our society is unacceptable unless they're actively refusing or preventing help. So we have a social imperative to devise systems that support providing that help for all.

Once we've decided it needs to happen, then we have an important and probably ongoing debate over how to do it. That's where we are with both rural fire coverage and national health.