Whose Side Should We Take?

It would be my hope that all of you are well aware, by now, of the fire department in rural South Fulton, TN, which failed to extinguish a fire because of the failure of a family to pay their subscription fee. I am not at all shocked by the furor which...

Let me also tell you another person who really angered me with the stupidity of their interview comments. He is Jeff Vowell, the city manager for South Fulton, TN. In defense of the actions of his fire department, he stated that, "...we have to follow the rules and the ordinances set forth to us, and that's exactly what we do." According to press reports, this process has been in effect for more than 20 years in South Fulton.

Do not think that you or I will get any support from the organizations which represent various levels of government in our nation. A great example of this comes from Jacqueline Byers with the National Association of Counties. In an article on ABC News.com she states that, "If the city starts fighting fires in the homes of people outside the city who don't pay, why would anyone pay?" Talk about a govern-style bean counter.

My friends, it is all about money. All I hear in my community is a hue and cry for lower taxes. But when asked if they want more services, people can always be counted upon to say, "...heck yes..." It just doesn't work that way. If you want, you pay. If I want gasoline for my car, I pay the guy at the gas station. If I want to fly to Indianapolis for the Fire Department Instructor's Conference, I pay Continental Airlines, and the list goes on and on.

It is really simple. If you want fire protection, you pay for it. You pay taxes, you attend roast beef dinners or pancake breakfasts; or you buy a Christmas tree from that group of guys and gals out there in the cold December weather. Let me assure you, however, that the days of providing fire protection with pancakes and potluck suppers is long past.

Ladies and gentlemen, my fire district is buying a new pumper and we are about to lay out $602,000 for it. How many pancake meals do you have to sell at $7 per person to buy such a vehicle? I did the math gang and it comes to 86,000 people buying one meal each. Our whole township only has 60,000 people and most of them do not come to us for breakfast at our twice-a-year event.

There is another question which might be asked. Do we need a new pumper? You bet your ass we do. I was not the one who invited the people who live in the 3,000-plus units of housing which were built within one mile of my 125-year-old home to come to Fire District #2 in Howell Township, NJ. However, I am chairman of the board of that same district and we have been given the responsibility by the voters of the area to do just that. So we do.

Time and again I keep hearing the phrase, "tax-strapped taxpayers." Heck, I pay taxes and probably a lot more than those people do down in Tennessee. I pay nearly $6,000 in property taxes and thank my lucky stars that I am paying a lot less than many of my buddies in the Adelphia Fire Company. What good is government if it fails to fulfill the sole reason for its existence? What is that sole reason for government's existence, you might ask? Plain and simple my friends, government exists to serve the people, but it cannot do the job without money.

Oh, there will be others who would push the rules and regulations part of government to keep order, but that is just a subset of the service to people. Let me push another one of today's hot buttons as it relates to this fire protection matter. How many members of government at the local, county, regional, state and national levels are in it just for what they can get out of it? More than one and less than 100 million I would suggest.

Folks, I have been a volunteer in one way or another for more than 40 years in both Freehold and Howell Townships here in New Jersey. Heck I drove the fire engine again yesterday morning and responded on a call this afternoon. With the exception of a very few years when my volunteer fire company provided an end of the year uniform stipend of a couple of hundred bucks, I have been a true volunteer since I first set foot in a Freehold First Aid Squad ambulance in 1964.

I have walked the streets of Freehold and Freehold Township seeking funds from a series of generally-unconcerned citizens. They had never called for an ambulance, so why should they give us any money. Heck I remember the time down on Center Street in Freehold when just 15 minutes after knocking on the door of a house and getting no answer, our ambulance was called to that house and we ended up transporting a pregnant lady to the hospital 30 minutes distant. She was never asked to pay and we never asked why they failed to answer our knock at the door. Nothing was said and we did not even get a thank you.