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aspartz
10-07-2005, 17:46
Home left to burn after fee not paid

Source (http://www.duluthsuperior.com/mld/duluthsuperior/news/local/12841066.htm)

INTERNATIONAL FALLS: A dispute among the city, county and fire department means rural homeowners may not be covered unless they pay $25 annually.

BY ROBERT FRANKLIN

MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE

Carl Berg failed to pay a$25 annual fee for rural fire protection and, as a result, firefighters let his house burn to the ground last month near International Falls.

Along with his daughter and a grandson, Berg escaped the fire, grabbing two rifles and a camcorder as he went.

"I lost everything," he said. "Stand and watch it burn was all I could do.... They should have put the thing out, but they didn't."

Some area residents are expressing outrage about a system that can let that happen -- and about a dispute involving the International Falls Fire Department, Koochiching County and the Rural Fire Protection Association, which collects annual fees and pays the city for each fire it fights outside city limits.

"You either buy it or you don't have it," said Don Billig, the association's secretary.

"You buy the fire protection up here, and you have it," Billig said.

However, Fire Chief Jerry Jensen said, "It's not the way we're trained. It's just wrong.... My job is to put out fires, not to watch them burn. I don't want this to happen again."

But it has happened before, and it might again because for two years the city, the county and the fire association have been unable to agree on costs of replacing the voluntary fee with a property tax levy that would pay for fire protection for everyone.

The Fire Department poured enough water on Berg's structure -- a mobile home and enclosed porch -- to put the fire out temporarily and make sure everyone was safe.

But when firefighters were called back later, they let the rekindled blaze destroy the building's remains.

Now, in the wake of the Sept. 15 fire, the city says it will cancel all rural fire protection next April unless an agreement is reached.

Minnesota has a long history of prickly negotiations between town fire departments and rural areas.

Some departments have stood by as flames consumed houses outside their territories, while others have fought the fires anyway.

Of about 1,700 rural property owners around International Falls, 300 didn't pay the fee this year.

They include Berg, 50, who said he is unemployed, can hardly walk since a car accident a couple of years ago, lives largely on food stamps and couldn't afford fire insurance or the $25 fee.

Jensen said that when firefighters arrived, the house was engulfed in flames and was a total loss anyway; Berg doesn't agree.

Firefighters saw that there was no fire number at the house, which would indicate the fee had been paid, so they concentrated on making sure the blaze didn't spread to neighboring property.

They hosed down Berg's garage.

"I'm very unhappy the way we have to make a decision at the scene," said Jensen, adding that even protecting the garage was a violation of association and county rules.

A retired suburban Chicago fire chief, Billig said, "I could not respond to a fire and not put it out. I'll put the fire out and then worry about the money situation."

But he also said his board may not pay the city's bill of $1,503.34 for the Berg fire.

To convert to a rural tax levy, the city asked for $232,000 a year, based on a statewide formula. The association's annual budget is about $46,000.

The higher figure is more than $100 per house in rural areas and, Jensen said, it would reduce the $165 average per house that city dwellers pay for a department that is part paid and part volunteer.

Billig called the $232,000 exorbitant. Koochiching County Coordinator Teresa Jaska said the figure represents more than what other fire districts in the county pay.

"You're going to blow some people out of the water with such a jump," she said.

Meanwhile, Jensen said, his department is getting beat up over the fire.

"This haggling over who pays what should have been resolved long ago," he was told in a letter from a resident. "We cannot stand by and watch a family residence burn to the ground, whether it's a mobile home or a mansion."

Oops -- I submitted before typing my 1/2 of it...

Being on a small department, I can see how this could happen. Every year, the city and the surrounding townships fight about what the fee for fire PROTECTION is going to cost. It is the duty of the township board to provide this service for its tax payers. For some reason, the township boards seem to think it costs nothing to run an FD.

$25 for a house does not seem that unreasonable. $100 is even better. IMHO, this guy not paying the $25 and then demanding service is exactly the same as someone not getting homeowners insurance but running to the agency when his house gets damaged, wanting to get retroactive insurance. The same could be said about the same situation inRE health insurance.

The FD suppressed the fire to the point of ensuring life safety, which they should have.

It's cruel, but this guy knew what he was getting into...

ARS

gruntmedik
10-07-2005, 20:31
;P ;P

Fireman1291
10-07-2005, 23:21
I hear and understand your point, but dammit, our purpose is to help those in need. Its a shame to the cross to not put out that fire, I dont care how much it costs, it goes against everything we believe in.:soap: Put it out and send him the $1500.00 bill or whatever it was and have the guy make payments. But dont let his posessions burn, jesus that was a disgrace to every man and women who bears a maltese cross.:soap: :soap:

DaleGribble
10-08-2005, 01:01
Originally posted by Fireman1291
I hear and understand your point, but dammit, our purpose is to help those in need. Its a shame to the cross to not put out that fire, I dont care how much it costs, it goes against everything we believe in.:soap: Put it out and send him the $1500.00 bill or whatever it was and have the guy make payments. But dont let his posessions burn, jesus that was a disgrace to every man and women who bears a maltese cross.:soap: :soap:

I agree.

We all run the BS calls and we all feel like telling those people to kiss our collective asses, but when people really need us, we're supposed to be there!

When I pull up to an accident scene I don't withhold treatment because the occupnats of the vehicle don't have health insurance!

aspartz
10-08-2005, 01:35
If you read the article, the FD in question DID suppress the fire on the initial call. It was the re-kindle that is under question. At this point the man's remaining property was already removed. Given the rural area, the trailer was already a loss.

Accidents and Fires are somewhat different (at least in MN)
In MN your local unit of gov't is supposed to provide fire protection service. If it does this with its own FD or contracts with an adjoining city based or private FD. If the board refuses this, the property in the jurisdiction gets an ISO rating of 10 -- no coverage.

Unfortunately, it costs a great deal of $$$ to run an FD. Without the danger of the above incident happening, where is the pressure on the townships to pay for this service? The city residents pay their share, but the townships want to get by for free.

Does this incident make all of us look bad? Yes it does. Unfortunately, if they had done the "right" thing, why would anyone in the area pay the $25 ever again?

ARS

DepChief
10-08-2005, 10:21
As long as you have the manpower and equipment to put a fire out, you put the fire out and you worry about reimbursement later. The officer that gave the order to have the fire crew stand around and watch the fire burn should be thrown out of the department. The job of any firefighter is to protect life AND property, and not to deny someone that service because they can't "afford" it.

gruntmedik
10-09-2005, 10:12
Originally posted by DepChief
As long as you have the manpower and equipment to put a fire out, you put the fire out and you worry about reimbursement later. The officer that gave the order to have the fire crew stand around and watch the fire burn should be thrown out of the department. The job of any firefighter is to protect life AND property, and not to deny someone that service because they can't "afford" it.

That was pretty much my thoughts when I posted my ;P ;P. I just cannot comprehend not putting the wet stuff on the red stuff;g. It'd be like having a credit card swiper in the ambulance--no card/over limit--too bad;g

Tvov
10-09-2005, 16:51
That is strange... As posted, they DID put out the fire and make sure everyone was safe. Then they were called back for a rekindle, as I understand it, no one was in danger anymore.

I have heard about this. I don't really understand how these areas work. Why doesn't that area have its' own volunteer fire dept? That is how most all vol FDs started, a small town needing fire protection. That's what my town did in 1907.

hotpig
10-10-2005, 10:21
The Fire District that I work for was formed in a area that was contract for the surrounding towns. The People decided that they would bite the bullet and form a tax supported Fire District.

I live in a small rural City of 2900 surrounded by contract areas. My Wives Aunt used to collect the funds and keep records on who paid and who has not. She then would turn the list and funds in to the City. Everyone knows full well what will happen if they do not contract. No dues no service.

You guys that are in large metro areas that get tax money have a hard time understanding this. Imagine if large areas of your District or City suddenly paid no taxes for your service. You still have to provide services for them but you do not have the money that you used to have. You would not be able to buy those 300k pumpers that some of you have. How about just settling for a 130k Commercial truck. Remember it needs to last you for twenty plus years. If you guys run a tight ship and watch the money real well you can save enough in the twenty years to buy a new truck. Money does not grow on trees you know.

In my little City the budget for the Fire Department is very slim. The Chief has to beg the City Council for permission on every dime that he spends. He has no budget or discretionary funds. The only money that he can buy equipment with comes from the contract money. I would hate to see what would happen if this money dried up.

The FD in question went above and beyond on this case as far as I'm concerned. I think it would have not been right to let a person burn but they have no obligation to put out the Fire. Once it was established that there was not a chance of loss of life the FD should not stay at the fire any longer.

If this situation happened here I would not say a word if I had a fire in the first thirty or forty minutes of that call.That would have given them time to established that there was no danger to life or limb and there was no obligation to act ie no contract.

However, if I ever had a fire and it turned out that the response by my Cities Voli Department was delayed or short because they were out in the country fighting a freebie there would be hell to pay. They are legally obligated to provide service to the tax payers and contract people. If the abandon us, than they will have to pay for our loss.

What about ethics and the we have to help others argument. The Department established that there was not a danger to life or limb. This is above and beyond their legal obligation. It was the right thing to do. They should be commended for doing this, because they did not even have to respond. The Officer that was in charge is a stand up guy in my book. ;c

If the States do not assign areas to Fire Districts or Departments this will be a reoccurring problem for years to come. In my area the contract people do not want to pay fire taxes on open land or woods. They resist forming Fire Protection Districts and seem content to pay a flat fee to cover their structures.

Many Fire Departments would have to close up shop if they had to provide services to these often large rural areas with no reimbursement. If they kept providing services to the non payers that they provide the the contract or subscription people they would soon find fewer will pay.

hsvhobbit
10-24-2005, 14:07
I'm not FD and never have been. Have been blessed to have never needed ya'lls services. But that said, this incident just left me feeling very sad at the actions of that department. They stood there and watched what was left of the man's property burn down. They just stood there.

Yeah, I know the economics of needing a yearly fee from every homeowner to pay the bills, but would it have REALLY hurt them so much to put the fire out this second time and send the man a bill? Likely his home insurance would've covered it. But there it was, firefighters that just stood and watched while they could've easily acted. Like I said, I'm just sad to hear of this.

Those of you citing the economics involved. Do you not feel even a shred of shame at this? Honestly.

We live in an area where the only fire protection is from a vol dept. They don't insist on a 'association' fee to come out and fight a fire, we do however voluntairily contribute at least $100 or more every time they do a fundraising. It would NEVER occur to me to begrudge a family their services because they didn't pay their way.

hotpig
10-24-2005, 14:23
As I stated before, The FD should have never even responded the second time. The whole incident is the home owners fault because he opted out of the contract.

This problem would end if the States would step in and assign Tax supported Fire Districts/Departments to all properties. The Fire Departments would get guaranteed money to pay bills. Based on the tax levy amout most home owners would pay about the same in tax as they pay on their dues.

murph2127
10-27-2005, 12:12
When I belonged to a FD we didn't get a dime from the govt. We made do with fund raisers and contributions.

Many of the departments get only money for insurance from the towns near us and the odd funding here and there for equipment. They also survive.

Sounded to me that someone is playing politics and using the FD as a weapon in the struggle.

Ted

Tvov
10-27-2005, 14:35
Originally posted by murph2127


Sounded to me that someone is playing politics and using the FD as a weapon in the struggle.

Ted

I don't know what is going on in the "backrooms" of the towns of that area, but that wouldn't surprise me at all from what I've seen happen in my own town. ~sd