Man’s House Burns as Firemen Watch, Doing Nothing

In rural Missouri, you better make sure you’re part of the firefighting club if you want to keep your house from burning down, as one Hispanic man found out, fighting flames with a garden hose while an entire fire department watched and did nothing.

Monett Rural Fire Department responded to the scene but did not fight, instead watching to see if the fire might spread to homes owned by members.

“People need to realize you’ve got to become a member. If you live outside the city limits, you need to join one of the rural fire departments,” Fire Chief Ronnie Myers said.

Rueda offered to pay, County Sheriff’s Detective Robert Evenson said, but the Monett department does not have a policy for on-the-spot billing.

Southwest Missouri firefighters watch as fire hits nonmember [Belleview News Democrat]

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  1. The Unicorn says:

    Having been to rural Missouri far more times than anyone should, I feel like the key word in this story is “Hispanic.” Who knew volunteer fireman could be such bastards?

  2. chooki says:

    Hey! The link goes back to the Consumerist, and there doesn’t seem to be a story on http://www.bellevillenewsdemocrat.com that I can find about this..

  3. chooki says:

    Found a story at http://www.news-leader.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/2006

    Rueda should have charged the FD a spotter fee, for alerting them to possible damage to members’ houses.

  4. Paul D says:

    Based on my own experiences in that area of the country, I am inclined to agree with The Unicorn.

    I could not imagine the anger, terror, and frustration I would feel if a fire department stood idly by while my house burned.

    Such are the dangers of privatizing vital services like these. And do think some people actually believe it’s a good idea…

  5. Ben Popken says:

    Whoops, fixed.

  6. CMPalmer says:

    A friend of mine had the opposite problem. He set fire to his falling down barn and the volunteer fire department showed up (extreme rural area). He wanted the fire to burn, but the volunteers only got paid if they fought the fire, so they put it out then made him get a burn permit and call them beforehand before he burned it down again.

  7. ValkRaider says:

    It’s easy to cry foul. But the issue is quite difficult.

    People vote against tax increases or levies to pay for fire protection. So the service is then not a public service, but instead a private enterprise.

    If the service is a private enterprise, should they provide services for people who are not members? What would be a good comparison…

    I can’t think of a really good one off the top of my head. Maybe something like you don’t buy an extended warranty and then you expect Best Buy to replace your TV after 3 years of use when it breaks….

    People, in a capitalist society – you get what you pay for.

    Now, here is my problem with the whole deal. I could understand them not responding to the fire. But they were *already there*. Half of the expense had already been incurred!

    So why *watch* the poor guy burn himself up trying to save his stuff? No, they should have put out the fire since they were already there. And maybe billed him something like a years worth of “dues”…

    The policy should be – if you pay dues, you get fire protection. If you don’t pay dues, you get fire protection for a premium cost. Not – if you don’t pay dues you get to watch your stuff burn while we stand by and laugh at your expense…

    Where I grew up was rural, and all of the volunteer fire departments billed people for their services. We had to pay a couple hundred dollars when they responded to a fire in our workshop, and we had to pay a couple hundred dollars for the ambulance that responded to take my dead father to the mortuary. All by a partially taxpayer funded volunteer fire department.

    Look, fire trucks and fire suits and helmets and walkie-talkies are not free people. They are F*%$ING expensive…

  8. CatMoran says:

    ValkRaider — how much should that premium cost be?

    Fire department membership == insurance == betting.

    They’re betting you’ll pay them a fee every year and never have a fire. You’re betting that you’ll need their help. (Or that the umbrella law* will protect you.)

    As for racial bias, it sounds like the fire dept did fail to inform the hispanic residents that they needed to join the firefighting club. But otherwise, these organizations have a long and glorious history of standing around and watching things burn down.

    * – if you carry an umbrella, it won’t rain.

  9. Andy S. says:

    ValkRaider, I think that the comparison you’re looking for is “insurance of any kind”. Everyone knows that insuring important things — your house, your car, your health — is important, if not legally mandatory. If I choose not to pay for auto insurance, I can’t change my mind once I’ve had a car accident and expect an insurance company to pick up the bill under the expectation that I’ll pay insurance fees, even for a year.

    As far as the issue with the fire department not putting out the fire, even though they were already there, I think the article explains that pretty clearly: they were already there in order to protect people who *had* paid.

    And to trump this up into some sort of a race-bias issue is both ignorant and ridiculous. The man’s race has nothing to do with it. Hispanic, white, black, asian, purple, it doesn’t matter; the man didn’t pay for a service, so he doesn’t get the service. Plain and simple. He opted to save money at the risk of his property, and he paid the price for it.

    He knew what he was doing when he chose not to become a member, and that has nothing to do with race.

  10. If it’s true that people moving to the area aren’t even told that that the fire brigade won’t put out their house if they don’t pay for membership, though, then I think they ought at least to have a “first one’s free” policy, or something.

    It may be reasonable to expect people who move to a rural area to educate themselves about risks from native wildlife, extreme weather and so on – but in this situation, a little note that says “You know your folksy friendly country neighbours? They’re not actually nearly as neighbourly as you might think, so pay your fire brigade dues” might be in order.

    The old private firefighting companies were often simple protection rackets. Firefighting was made a goverment service in the cities specifically to stop stuff like this (and more serious problems, like competing fire brigades brawling in front of a building while it burned down…) from happening.

    Mind you, the article also says this brigade will definitely fight a fire if a life is in danger. So skinflints could just keep running back into their house, I suppose.

  11. The Unicorn says:

    Andy, I’m not trying to suggest that the firefighters were like, “We hate Latinos, so let ‘em burn” — but the article does seem as though they were definitely not proactive about notifying a particular segment of the community.

    Additionally, the fact that he suffered second-degree burns, AND the fact that he offered to pay and they still woudln’t fight the fire, strikes me as morally negligent, even if they were acting within a pre-established set of rules.

    Plus, “the Monett department does not have a policy for on-the-spot billing”? C’mon. They should have a policy something like: nonmenbers have to pay 5 years’ worth of dues upfront, with the promise to remain members for some additional length of time, if their house catches on fire.

  12. dcndn says:

    Why does anyone even think it’s OK to charge a membership for services like firefighting?! That is a wholly ridiculous idea. It’s one thing to charge the homeowner for services rendered, but it’s another to actually refuse to fight the fire because he hasn’t pre-paid! Good God. What’s worse, I bet these people are “values voters.”

  13. ValkRaider says:

    Exactly. Put out the fire, but bill them for it. Make them sign a contract just like you would as a contractor doing work. That way the fire department would have a lein on the property until the debt was paid.

    Then the person could decide either to sign the contract or let the structure burn…

    Fire protection is not free. But it should not be something that is *denied* someone who is willing to make concessions.

    Basically, make it more cost effective for people to pay the monthly or annual membership dues – but still allow people a mechanism to save their homes if they have not, but not go broke in the process..

    Also, I wonder what happens with insurance claims if the fire department wouldn’t put out the fire due to non-payment of dues. Could an insurance company deny claims based on neglegence of the owner to not pay for fire protection?

    This is really a complicated area…. We are all experts until our own house is burning…

  14. L_Emmerdeur says:

    Wow! Those guys are just like FDNY firefighters! Except, you know, for the whole ethical thing, the whole doing your job thing, and the whole risking your life to save others thing.

  15. Ben Popken says:

    Also from the article, “Myers said he would make an effort to explain the membership policy to the area’s new Hispanic residents after the property’s owner, Bibaldo Rueda, said he had never been told of the dues policy since moving there 1 1/2 years ago.”

  16. OkiMike says:

    I read about a court case concerning a similar case recently. The homeowner sued the city for failing to provide services under the “Good Samartian” laws of the state.

    If it’s true that the FD did this, it should be illegal and they should be fucking thrown into the houses they refuse to save.

  17. Kornkob says:

    The problem with any contract signed by the homeowner as the fire is blazing is that it would be all too easy for the homeowner to follow up with a ‘but I was under duress’ claim afterwards.

    It coudl be a race thing– I wonder if any local white folks were in the same situation once and were taklen care of. If so then there might be an issue. However, what it feels more like is that the local government isn’t making clear the terms of services in their area. That alone might be actionable– after all, it’s an uncommon practice and when I bought my house I never asked if there was a private fire or police (yeah– I think there are still private police departments out there) protective companies in operation because it never even occrred to me that the services werent’ part of my taxes.

    Otherwise, I think the fire department operated like a business: you didnt’ pay for our services so we didnt’ render them. Business is what business is. This same person won’t be convincing any insurance companies to cover the loss of his home and property if he faield to get fire insurance before the fire.

  18. RowdyRoddyPiper says:

    Good Samaritan Laws are in effect to prevent off duty physicians, first responders etc, from being sued when they provide assistance in emergencies. They also protect individuals with no special training who act reasonably when trying to assist. Contrary to what happened in Seinfeld, it’s my understanding that Good Smaritan laws do not compel one to intervene in emergencies. If you have a link to the article, I’d like to read it just to clarify my understanding of the subject.

  19. RowdyRoddyPiper says:

    Also, it’s bad on the Fire Brigade for not getting the word out, however when buying a house one would research things like water provison, police services and schools, so why would one neglect fire protection and emergency services?

  20. dcndn says:

    “business is what business is”? WTF? fighting fire isn’t a business, it’s a community service. it’s reasonable to expect people to pay for the service, but it’s unethical to deny someone of it if they are in need, even if that cost is balanced on the rest of the community. jesus h.

  21. carol says:

    This is bad. What I don’t understand is this: When we bought this house over 30 years ago, we were told at closing about the $25 fire fee and it was was included in the closing statement. Then we were sent a contract in triplicate from the fire department–one copy for us, one for the insurance company, and one for the mortgagor. Had we not sent the insurance copy to them every year thereafter at renewal, our insurance would have been cancelled.

    Did somebody drop the ball at closing? I am assuming the home was insured.

    At any rate, it was mean-hearted and cruel for those firemen to stand by and do nothing. Shame on them!