South Fulton, Tennessee city officials decided some time ago to charge a $76 fee per year for residents to receive fire services.  Vicky Bell didn’t pay.  So recently, fire fighters responded to her area to protect neighboring homes of those who did pay the fee, but did nothing while Vicky’s trailer burned to the ground.  Mayor David Crocker stated that if fire fighters did respond to those who failed to pay the fee, there would be no incentive for other residents to pay.  He added that fire fighters will intervene if a resident’s life is in danger.

In May of this year, Alameda, CA first responders failed to intervene with a man who committed suicide by drowning. The water was too shallow for the Coast Guard to get a boat close enough to him. The police and fire departments had not had water rescue training, reportedly due to funding cuts.  Raymond Zack stood in cold water up to his neck for over an hour before completing his suicide in front of his horrified mother and first responder onlookers.  In October, 2010 in Obion County, Tennessee fire fighters also watched a home burn because residents did not pay a fee.  Four family pets perished in this blaze.  The residents lost everything.  In Newark and Camden, New Jersey, two extremely dangerous cities, police have made massive personnel cuts due to budget shortfalls.

First responders don’t choose their vocations because they want to stand and watch when citizens need emergency help.   However, decisions are being made to cut costs in a manner that is not only harmful to residents, but harmful to the reputation of emergency services personnel nationwide.

Sociologist Abraham Maslow set up a hierarchy of conditions that people need in order to reach their highest potentials.  At the bottom of that pyramid is the need for basic existence and safety.  In an attempt to balance budgets, officials are making decisions threatening the most basic needs that human beings have.

The results of this are agonizing, no doubt, to first responders in addition to those who are directly affected.  Another result of deciding to balance budgets by cutting essential services is that it hits society’s most vulnerable residents.  In this case, it affected a suicidal man and families who live in trailers and do not have $75 a year to pay for fire protection.

Isn’t it nauseating that we live in a country where the federal government squanders millions of dollars while our cities and counties struggle to provide the most basic services?   In September, a Justice Department audit gave a scathing report in which they reviewed a number of federal expenses.   Among the costs they cited as being excessive was $17 (no, that is not a typo) for one muffin, a $76 per person cost for lunch at a San Francisco conference, and Swedish meatballs which cost $5 per meatball.  Per meatball!

Meanwhile grant funds available from DOJ for law enforcement are shrinking each year.  I wonder why? The Defense Department spent $100 million on flights that they never took.  The list goes on and on.

What can public safety personnel and their supporters do?  Tell our congressmen and senators that we want accountability in government.  We need to vote.  We need to be activists.  We need to do more with less.  We need to utilize volunteers and interns to try to fill in the gaps when there is no other way.  In communities where the choice has been made to charge residents for fire services, we need to identify those who cannot pay and write grants, develop corporate sponsorships, church programs, or fundraisers to cover those expenses.  We can’t just stand there.  We must do something

That’s what I think.  I would love to know your thoughts.


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