?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Alaskan Fire-Fighting - The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal
October 9th, 2007
10:18 am

[Link]

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Alaskan Fire-Fighting

Fairbanks, Alaska was one of the biggest towns in Alaska, but it still wasn’t big enough to fund its own fire-fighting department with taxes. Part of that may have had something to do with the traditional Alaskan terror of Big Gummint, but the result was the same:

If you wanted to be protected, you paid the firefighters to have your house covered. Like insurance, you paid up every month.

The men of Fairbanks were volunteer firefighters, but maintaining the fire engine and such still cost a chunk of change. As such, they needed the money to keep everything flowing. And when the houses began to burn – which, given how cold Alaska was and how much heat was needed to stay alive, was surprisingly often – the brave firefighters rode out to put down the flames.

…that is, if you’d paid up.

It was a terrible thing when someone hadn’t paid the firefighters. They couldn’t claim they didn’t know; everyone in town understood that the firefighters were pay-or-play. But there were a lot of people who figured that hell, they’d never need the firemen, and others who took shortcuts and figured that it was more important to pay some other bill that month. And just the same as everyone else, accidents happened to them.

If you had paid, they’d douse your house with water – no small trick in a place where the temperature got so cold that a cup of hot coffee would freeze into brown ice crystals when flung into mid-air. They’d put the fire out, and do their job.

If not? They’d call the cops. They’d get all the pets and the people out of the building; the volunteer firemen of Alaska were not cruel men. They’d wet the houses next to yours, making sure that the fire didn’t spread to consume all of Fairbanks.

Then they would sit down and watch your house burn.

The cops were there to protect the firemen; it wasn’t uncommon to have some furious homeowner run up and take a swing at the firemen carefully studying the blaze. And it must be tough to sit there and watch, knowing that your home was so close to being saved and yet having the whole society working against you.

But it had to be done. Because if people knew that the firemen would save them free of charge, then nobody would pay. And if people knew that you could avoid paying the firemen up until the moment that first spark hit your curtain, well, again, nobody would pay.

And if nobody paid, everyone paid. As I’ve said, those firetrucks and hoses and buildings weren’t cheap. If they let a couple of people slide, soon enough they wouldn’t be able to afford the upkeep and everyone’s houses would burn.

I imagine the firefighters had a bitter satisfaction in knowing that they were correct, which might – might – have been enough to offset the cries of wailing children and shrieking families. But it was an ugly balance: this one crying child would be many more screaming children if everyone in town realized they could cheat the firemen. Who would be left then?

There were genuine excuses, of course. Some people thought they were covered by another district. Others were poor. But again, everyone lies when their house is on fire, and how would you sort the actual hardship cases from the short-sighted folks who thought they could pull one over on you? When your bedroom is going up in ashes and smoke, every person in the world will tell you whatever they think you want to hear. And again, who wants to pay money for something they think won’t happen to them?

The fire engines didn’t come free. Someone had to pay.

Eventually, Fairbanks moved to a system where the fireman’s charge was part of the insurance that was mandated by the banks. That was probably nicer, and the firemen haven’t had to stand idle at the flames for decades now. But until the banks forced everyone to play fair, the firemen had occasional long nights of the soul.

They knew the awful truth: sometimes, to protect everything and to teach the right people the right lessons, you had to let it all burn.

(82 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

Comments
 
Page 1 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>
[User Picture]
From:louiseroho
Date:October 9th, 2007 02:30 pm (UTC)
(Link)
This is an incredible parable for our age.
[User Picture]
From:theferrett
Date:October 9th, 2007 02:31 pm (UTC)
(Link)
NOTE: All facts taken from my wife, and I may have misremembered her. If this is factually inaccurate, blame me, not her.
[User Picture]
From:zero_design
Date:October 9th, 2007 02:34 pm (UTC)
(Link)
TANSTAAFL.
"There ain't no such thing as a free lunch."

A concept that has always stuck with me... and this seems like a pretty darn good example of it in execution.
From:flense
Date:October 12th, 2007 02:35 am (UTC)
(Link)
I think there's more to it than that.
From:pi216
Date:October 9th, 2007 02:55 pm (UTC)
(Link)
There was a study (half-remembered from prosocial behavior class a couple of years ago) about parents picking up their kids from afterschool care that runs similarly to this, at least in the 'enforcement or destruction' mechanic.

"How do we deal with free-riders?" is one of the great social structure conundrums.
[User Picture]
From:on_reserve
Date:October 9th, 2007 05:29 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I think I read something like this also -- it had to do with how charging per minute that a parent was late for pick-up would affect/increase on-time pickups.
[User Picture]
From:wyrrlen
Date:October 9th, 2007 02:59 pm (UTC)
(Link)
And yet, I'm sure there are people out there that would prefer not only the pay-to-play method, but would prefer that there be multiple private firefighting companies competing for lower prices.

How dare we have government-run (socialist?) forms of police and fire protection!

This post really just makes me want to go out and argue about paying taxes and the national debt.
[User Picture]
From:interactiveleaf
Date:October 7th, 2010 03:57 pm (UTC)
(Link)
In America, the system once upon a time was that private firefighting companies would compete to put out burning homes, because the insurance companies paid the firefighting companies for it.
[User Picture]
From:nex0s
Date:October 9th, 2007 03:03 pm (UTC)
(Link)
What if you are too poor to pay the firefighters?

I'm listening to "Nickled & Dimed" from audible.com.... I know that in the greatest poverty of my life (I was homeless for awhile, and then I supported two adults on $13,000 a year while working three jobs) that there are times when there was NO way I could have paid anything.

I'm talking about the working poor. What if you make just enough to feed and house your family. What then?

I guess you get burned out of home too, huh? On top of everything else.

This whole post is very well written, but makes me incredibly sad.

N.
[User Picture]
From:andrewducker
Date:October 9th, 2007 03:11 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Well, if you're renting, then your landlord would presumably cover it...
From:bonerici
Date:October 9th, 2007 03:11 pm (UTC)
(Link)
And just the same as everyone else, "accidents" happened to them.

u were missing some punctuation
[User Picture]
From:blackcoat
Date:October 9th, 2007 03:16 pm (UTC)
(Link)
So are you. And you can't be bothered to use two extra letters.
[User Picture]
From:perich
Date:October 9th, 2007 03:47 pm (UTC)
(Link)
This fascinates the economics nerd in my brain; I've saved it to my del.icio.us memo.
[User Picture]
From:beldar
Date:October 9th, 2007 04:05 pm (UTC)
(Link)
This shows the uncomfortable side of living by libertarian values, which gives me pause since that's my usual political bent. (I'd say this would be the Ayn Randian ideal, but under that philosophy the firemen would have to be paid as volunteering is for fools.)

True, no free lunch, but how do we split the check, who pays, and what do we do for those who won't (and especially those who can't) pay up? For those of us who don't live in Fairbanks, these questions are still pertinent particularly when we tackle health care issues.
[User Picture]
From:maniakes
Date:October 9th, 2007 04:38 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Marcus Licinius Crassus (who later was a member of the First Triumverate with Julius Caesar and Pompey Magnus) employed a private fire brigade.

Rather than taking payments before the fire, they'd wait until a house caught fire, and then Crassus would buy the still-burning house (for much less than it was worth before it caught fire, but much more than it would be worth burned to the ground) and have his fire brigade extinguish it. Crassus would then have the house repaired and sold.
[User Picture]
From:sacramentalist
Date:October 9th, 2007 05:56 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Sounds like "fire sale" had a different meaning back in pre-imperial Rome.
[User Picture]
From:e_juliana
Date:October 9th, 2007 04:39 pm (UTC)
(Link)
One of my parent's friends was a volunteer chief of the fire department. I remember that sort of thing - though his district butted up against Wainwright, so the Army was quick to start dousing on their side.
[User Picture]
From:tashiro
Date:October 9th, 2007 05:00 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Would you believe, looking up 'Firemen' and 'Fairbanks Alaska' in Google turns the Ferret's LJ up as #5 already? I wanted to find out more about this.
[User Picture]
From:theferrett
Date:October 9th, 2007 06:32 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Wow. Who knew?
[User Picture]
From:supremegoddess1
Date:October 9th, 2007 05:04 pm (UTC)
(Link)
would you mind if i cross-posted this to reader's list?
[User Picture]
From:theferrett
Date:October 9th, 2007 06:33 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Go right ahead.
[User Picture]
From:xforge
Date:October 9th, 2007 05:27 pm (UTC)
(Link)
This is exactly why I want to puke every time the President says "I will not sign off on any bill that has any new taxes in it now give me $200 billion more for my penis war."

[User Picture]
From:shandra
Date:October 9th, 2007 05:51 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I want to know how the police were funded. :)
[User Picture]
From:thegreatjohnzo
Date:October 10th, 2007 06:59 am (UTC)
(Link)
hunter gatherer society. to get your car back, it cost 3 bear pelts. rape crimes investigation cost some fresh vegetables. murder crimes required someone in the family to marry the assigned police officer. or at least date him for three weeks.

well, thats what i heard...
The Ferrett's Domain Powered by LiveJournal.com