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St. Louis firm handles $662 collection case in West Plains, loses there and again on appeal. Why?

As we all know by now, you can often follow the money to the answer. Sometimes the trail is faint.

A one-car accident in Howell County, which sits on Missouri’s border with Arkansas about halfway across southern Missouri, resulted in a 911 call and the summoning of the Brandsville Fire Protection District (FPD) and the Missouri Highway Patrol and an ambulance. FPD personnel arrived at the scene and assisted with first aid and loading Jerry and Nina Phillips into ambulances.

FPD personnel remained at the scene for a couple of hours, providing traffic control while the wrecker loaded the Phillips’ car.

The FPD sued the Phillipses for an unpaid bill of $662. The bill was issued under the FPD’s ordinance allowing it to charge non-residents of the FPD for services. These charges are authorized by Missouri statute. When the bill wasn’t paid, the FPD sued.

Most of the story appears in the opinion of the Southern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals, Brandsville Fire Protection District v. Phillips, upholding Judge Donald Henry’s decision in Howell County Circuit Court. But you have to dig a little deeper to figure out why a firm from St. Louis would defend a small collection case in a court three hours away from St. Louis.

The St. Louis firm is Brinker & Doyen, an insurance defense firm. It seems fair to assume that the Phillipses turned the bill over to their insurance company along with their car repair bill. Because the statute authorizing fire protection districts to charges non-residents for their services had not been interpreted by an appellate court, the insurance company apparently saw this case as an opportunity to persuade the court that such charges were improper, or at least to have the court give the statute a narrow interpretation to prevent FPD’s from charging as much as they might otherwise. This situation could be multiplied by thousands, so that the $662 could be millions. The insurance company asked its attorneys to challenge the FPD’s charges.

The statute in question is subsection 12 of section 321.220, which was added by the Missouri General Assembly in 2005, which reads as follows:

The [FPD] board shall have the power to adopt an ordinance, rule, or regulation allowing the district to charge individuals who reside outside of the district, but who receive emergency services within the boundaries of the district, for the actual and reasonable cost of such services. However, such actual and reasonable costs shall not exceed one hundred dollars for responding to each fire call or alarm and two hundred fifty dollars for each hour or a proportional sum for each quarter hour spent in combating a fire or emergency.

The insurance company’s strategy didn’t work, at least for now. The loser has a right to ask the Missouri Supreme Court to take a look at the case, which will delay the Court of Appeals’ decision from becoming final.

About Harry Styron

I'm a lawyer who lives in Branson, Missouri, whose professional interests involve real estate, construction and local government.

12 responses »

  1. Interesting. I’m surprised it took seven years for the insurance companies to take a shot at the new law. I would have to guess defeating it on some technicality would have improved the law firms image with the industry.

  2. Most people don’t know this law exists. How can you avoid this? You get in an accident, and a whole bunch of people show up to ‘help’ and send you a bill. Interesting that residents inside the fire protection district don’t have to pay. I wonder if it would be more appropriate if you are paying some sort of tax or fee for this sort of service back home where you live, but you just happened to be five counties away from your home district, and the home district can’t provide the service where you needed it, if the district that actually provides the service should have to bill the district where you live and pay the tax? I personally was under the mistaken impression that when I paid taxes to support the local fire and ambulance districts, it was to support the infrastructure for a safer community in which to live and work where people didn’t worry about whether or how public services were going to be dispatched when they had an accident. I live in Branson-does this mean that if I go to the Hollister Industrial Park, like I do virtually every day, and have an accident, the Western Taney County Fire Protection District is going to hammer me for a fee in addition to the taxes I pay in Branson? In think the taxes I pay should cover me for more than just the confines of the hamlet where I reside. This law sucks. I can see where somebody living paycheck to paycheck could get bankrupted by something like this as a result of an otherwise minor incident. What if you don’t actually need the service and aren’t insured for the cost? Somebody from some rural fire department shows up and does whatever they think they are supposed to do, and the victim is under the mistaken assumption that this is a public service. This makes me want to further avoid having to travel in the rural parts of the state, besides all of the crooked speed traps, crappy motels, high food and fuel prices, crappy restaurants, and poor cell phone reception, in rural areas, now you have to worry that if you have some sort of accident, not only will you be hurt, not only will the nearest decent real medical help be several counties away, not only will you be at the mercy of whatever local authority decides about what ‘really happened’, but you will have a crowd of Billy Bobs and Jethros dashing to the scene to direct traffic and help you into the ambulance so that their fire protection district can charge you $ 662.00. As for the insurance industry angle, knowing what I know about how insurance companies work, if this is a real cost of an accident, the insurance company won’t care. The cost will simply be reported as experiential and the CAS guys will re-rate everybody in the state for all companies, and if it is bad enough, they might rate you on your probability of traveling where this is a risk, and everybody’s insurance goes up, particularly if you live in a rural area because rural people tend to travel a lot to other rural areas. I suspect that the insurance industry sees this as an open ended uncontrollable cost, where their insureds are supposed to pay whatever the local government pinheads decide to hammer people with. It sounds to me that it would probably be appropriate for the costs of these services to be controlled more closely than by simple caps in the statutes, maybe something like a public service commission which controls rates charged by the utility monopolies can be formed so the public isn’t raped on costs by these local districts. .

    • “Billy Bobs and Jethros” dashing to the scene. All your other blathering about the rural areas of the states. It may surprise you to know that most of the major metropolitan areas of the state also have charges like Brandsville FPD has, and you will have to pay there also.

      Your taxes to pay for these fees (and at the time of delivery Brandsville Fire Protection District was NOT tax supported) are for the services to be there ready to provide their services. That user charge for working the accident is charged when they have to provide those services. It is handled just like every ambulance service in the state, and the vast majority of the ambulance services in the country.

      I find your blathering to be quite offensive. I am the Chief of the adjoining Fire Department to Brandsville. I have a BSEE to pay for my life, but I also spend many hours each week making sure that the emergency services are available to you and others, not only in my area, but in many areas across the state in my capacity as board member on state and regional boards for emergency services, my free grant writing for any department in the state (with millions of dollars brought into the state from those grants I wrote). I also am an instructor for the Fire Service and DHS.

      I have 26 firefighters. Hard working folks, from office workers, health care workers, ditch diggers, farm workers. Most are trained well beyond the basics, achieving national standard Fire Fighter I and II and much more. They do this on their own time, 4 months of two to three evenings during the week, and every other saturday. They do 40+ hours of medical first responder training. They keep up their CEU’s to stay current. These are some of the best down to earth people you will ever meet.

      And money. There is never enough to run a department. These folks spend LOTS of their own money, fuel, higher insurance, radios, extra protective gear, and much more.

      They answer calls often at the worst times, to bring these services to the people in the community. Many volunteer also on the Region G all Hazards team. The do this in addition to raising their families, paying their bills, and being productive members of their community. Kelly Trimble, I ask you – what have YOU done for your community lately?

      Your snobbish attitude is atrocious. You should be ashamed,

  3. I like looking at the law and speculating as to the motives of those involved, but I think $250 an hour is a reasonable charge for emergency services. It’d be a bargain here in StL.

  4. Sounds like another Tea Party guy that thinks they get everything for nothing. Blake, correct me if I’m wrong, but the FD in question is probably a subscription department?
    If so, the subscribers in the fire district pay a subscription fee for fire services. If someone is not a subscriber, then the FD can bill for a fire call.
    Maybe I missed it, but were the victims from outside of the FD’s coverage area? If so, then they pay for a response, just like the ambulance.
    As for “Billy Bobs and Jethroes”…Kelly, just exactly who do you think has the sense of civic responsibility to join a FD and respond when people are in trouble OTHER than “Billy Bobs and Jethroes”?
    Bankers? Lawyers? Theater Owners? People who run car auctions? Pillars of the Community? Not a chance. BB&Js are the ones that do that service for the community, county, or Fire District. (No insult intended Mr. Styron, just an example).
    My FD, which is the second largest FD in Taney County, with 18 pieces of apparatus (trucks for the buzzword impaired) and 5 stations is tax levy supported, so nobody in trouble in our district pays “per incident” for fire or auto accident or medical first responder.
    That means that if you come over into Central or Eastern Taney County and you get in trouble, we come. It doesn’t matter to us that you are essentially a freeloader by getting response services, and foisting the cost of those services over onto the residents of our district.
    That means that if Western Fire, Branson Fire, Forsyth Fire, Bradleyville Fire, Protem Fire, or Cedarcreek Fire call us in for mutual aid, we come.
    When we need mutual aid, THEY come.
    When a tornado roars through Taney County end-to-end, we spend our personal money and our personal time for DAYS to help our residents dig out from under the damage.
    It doesn’t matter to us that you call us names like BB&Js.
    It doesn’t matter that we roll out of bed in the middle of the night to help you.
    It doesn’t matter that for rendering that service, whether we’re out there for 10 minutes or 10 hours, we get a flat $8. Not 8$/hour….just $8.
    It doesn’t matter to us, because if we don’t do it, it won’t get done.

    So Kelly, kindly blow it out your large format camera. Your freeloading indignation is duly noted.

  5. Wow, my comment got flamed, twice!, and it was done in a rather personal way by people purporting to be in public service, but even though neither comment appears responsive to the arguments in my original comment, the personal recriminations made would appear to cry out for a response on my part. Sometimes I enjoy a good flame war. I don’t mind getting into an internet flame war over stuff I don’t really care that much about sometimes. It can be fun, and sometimes everybody learns a lot, and it’s a good way to practice freeform rhetorical writing, and you can sometimes use language, similies, humorously mixed metaphors and misplaced allusions to entertaining and sometimes comic effect. I don’t think that is what these guys are into. I think they just want to squelch the communication of any views that run counter to what they perceive to be the interests of EMS.

    Among other odd things, I have a background in public relations. Oddly, every few days, or even sometimes two or three times a day, I get to witness somebody, or some company, or sometimes and entire industry make collossal public relations mistakes that are easily recognizable, easily avoided, easily correctable, easy to recover from. Sometimes I am mildly amused, sometimes entertained, and yet sometimes I am dismayed.

    Such is the case here. I know how reluctant public officials can be to ask for tax increses, and I am aware that money hemmorages out of the department in every direction, and pressures are constant for expansion, equipment replacments, personnnel, facilities, etc, etc, and I’m sure every little fire district scattered through the hinterland is just thrilled to be able to bill people for services. But I think this is a bad law.

    While you may be thrilled for the new revenue source for your department, I see several problems. So allow me to rephrase my concerns . . . .

    First, the ability of local EMS to bill for services will result in a loss of public trust (which two years later I would now characterize as a ‘further erosion of public trust’). This is a new thing, most people don’t know about it, I’m pretty knowledgable and I didn’t know about it until I read about this case, and it runs counter to people’s perception of what rural EMS is supposed to be all about. I had to call Harry around miday for something unrelated, and he told me that I had some vitriolic responses to a comment I made a few years ago on his blog. After reading them, I wondered if I was off base on my judgements, so through the afternoon I asked people if they were aware that if they drove through rural areas of the state and got into an accident or had something happen, and any sort of local EMS showed up, they would be billed for it, and it could be several hundred dollars, they were not only unaware of it, they were a little incensed by it.

    OK. from a PR standpoint, that’s bad. Historically, EMS, whether police, fire, ambulance, EMTs, whatever, enjoy a stronly positive public perception. That perception has been reinforced over decades with every positive media story, every TV show about cops or firemen, every hero movie about fire fighters, and the occassional member of the public being saved by a fireman somewhere. However, that positive public perception has been eroding. It’s been eroding slowly for several years, but the decline in public perception has accelerated over the past year since Ferguson, even for the EMS services ancilliary to LE, and even in rural areas.

    Besides Ferguson, this erosion in public confidence and trust has been driven by a series of media reported incidents involving EMS other than police as well as other negative reinforcers involving non-EMS public services, including a plethora of small town corruption stories, media reporting of public infrastructure failures, and the overloading of infrastructure that is not being expanded with the growth in public need. At the same time, relations between various public entities and the public has deteriorated. City councils, zoning boards, fire district boards, even local water district boards have meetings with armed guards or cops not only in presence but at the apparent command of the boards. I could go on, but you should get the picture, or maybe you don’t, I don’t really care.

    Anyway, on top of all of that, the public discovers that the fire guys or whatever EMS shows up at their fender-bender or brain-basher on some county road intersection in Booger County won’t be running to the scene because he is a selfless public servant who loves EMS work, but rather he is yet another government employee jumping on an opportunity to extract cash from somebody who can’t argue, and probably won’t be aware of it for weeks.

    The ability to bill for EMS services will, in my humble unsolicited unworthy unwelcomed opinion, eventually cost EMS more in negative public perception than it will ever raise in revenue. But opinions are like assholes, everybody has one, and my opinion is obviously neither wanted nor respected, so perhaps you really shouldn’t worry about it. But I digress, anyway . . .

    Second, this law is bad because it distorts the market system to force services on a consumer and sets up an incentive that produces an unstable optimum solution, or rather, the ability to charge services to somebody not able to make a decision on the consumption of those services and even unaware of the consequences of accepting those services sets up an incentive to expand those services far beyond the actual need. Furthermore, there could be an eventual effect on resource management decisions, the nature of which I’m sure I would get flamed on for any attempt to describe. Even further, there could be surprising, but completely predictable, effects on capital investment planning to expand services where there is no actual economic need, and God forbid, incentivisation in non-LE EMS on the level we already see in LE.

    Of course, EMS people will say “We’re EMS, we’re heros, we won’t ever do that”, and you will get indignant at anybody who makes such a suggestion and claim it will never happen. Unfortunately, it is all very predictable, and I have centuries of economic data, academic studies, and anecdotal experience that proves I’m right.

    Thirdly, the idea that you will be billed unilaterally for EMS if you have a problem in a rural area really does figure into both perceptions of rural areas and into people’s decisions as to whether to travel or trade in rural parts of the state. There is already a rural/urban split in both social structure and commerce. As public awareness of this law grows, that will be made worse.

    I’m not insulting rural areas or people who live in rural areas, it’s just a fact. Cell service sucks in rural areas. That’s a fact. That is an inconvenience. There is nowhere you can trust to eat but fast food. That’s a fact. It is yet another inconvenience. Gas often costs more. You can’t get certain things you are used to in rural stores. etc etc etc. On top of that, there is a real problem with traffic enforcement abuses on the part of LE. Although the real abuses are in the St. Louis suburbs, it’s rural areas that have the bad reputation for that sort of thing. Roads suck. The people are often poor. Local governments are usually unfriendly. etc etc etc. You can whine all you want about how insulting I’m being, but I’m stating facts. People I know in urban areas do not want to transact business in a lot of rural areas for these specific reasons.

    I can state from my own experience that it is a fact in my business. Most people in my business won’t go beyond the limits of Greene County or maybe into Nixa and Ozark unless they absolutely have to. That presents an opportunity for me to charge bigger fees for what I do in the outstate portions of this end of the state, and I miss out on all of the easy work in Springfield as a result, but I don’t like working in a lot of rural areas either. I get calls all the time to do substantial work in south central or southeast Missouri because there is almost nobody there. I won’t go there unless I can fly there. I won’t drive there. I will not expose myself to the speed traps on US 60. Period. I got a suspension in my early 20s from accumulation of points, it was a bad experience back then, but it would be a financial disaster for me at this point in my life, so I don’t drive fast and if I know a speed trap exists, it is as if the police have closed the road-I don’t go there. Other people in my business have other problems in that region, but essentially the region between basically just east of West Plains all the way to the bootheel does not have good access to my industry’s services, and is thus economically disadvantaged. Newton County is sort of the same way. I won’t go there without a real reason. It’s not just the speed traps, such as Diamond, Goodman, etc, but the assessor’s office is really unfriendly, city and county offices are disdainful of outsiders, and nobody wants to go there. Barry County is the same way, but the speed traps aren’t quite as bad, but you can’t get anywhere with the shitty roads. Knowing that I’m going to get ripped for several hundred bucks if anything unexpected happens, in addition to whatever bad just happened, makes me even less excited about working in rural areas.

    That is bad for rural areas. This law may allow you people to bill people directly for EMS, and it doesn’t affect your local residents, but these people you bill will go back home and tell everybody they know how they got ripped by some rural EMS when something happened to them out in BFE.

    Fourthly, the article was about how an insurance company was fighting this charge, presumably seeking to set some sort of precident at the appellate level that would control an experiential cost that would otherwise be open ended. The insurance companies know the economics of how EMS works, they know how GS and LE behave, and they know this law sets up an unstable incentive. In my original post, I was puzzled as to why they would care because the EMS costs would simply figure in to CAS experiential experiences, raise costs, and they would simply raise rates across the industry, as would all providers forced to price off of the same experiential data, and as costs and rates go up, their fixed margins get bigger, so I was puzzled as to why insurance companies would care. I realized this afternoon that this law sets up an unstable incentive to EMS, and that EMS people are going to game the system, and the costs are going to grow, and if their rates are based on experiential data, current insurance rates will always be behind the curve of future claims experience in a manner that they won’t be allowed to rate for.

    OK, so I got flamed on by a couple of EMS guys about my post. They handled the PR problem with the only PR tools they know. EMS has always been able to ignore any negative PR problems because they were viewed as heros by the public, and they have learned to rattle off that selfless hero story whenever anybody puts forward any critisizm of EMS. Their responses to my post were all “we’re selfless heros, heros, heros heros heros, selfless selfless heros heros”.

    The second PR tool that EMS uses dealing with any critisism is to simply personally marginalize anybody puting forward a critisism. These guys stated, in the context of a comment about a critisism, about how offended they were that I would say anything critical of EMS or critical of anything that benefits EMS, and they made these statements in a personal way, one could even be perceived as theatening.

    Interestingly, neither one, NEITHER one, made any attempt to deal with my actual critisism of the law in question in their comments. Both were along the lines of “We’re offended, we’re heros, you’re a jerk”. I will admit, however, that one of the two did make a point, a very valid point in my opinion, that this is not just a rural thing-this is done in metropolitan areas as well. He’s right about that. It is done most notoriously in the suburbs around St. Louis. My response to his point is to ask what he thinks has been happening to public perceptions of EMS in the St. Louis suburbs over the past twenty years or so, or at least over the past year. Of course that is a counter argument on my part reliant on general public awareness and not actual survey measurement data. For actual data I would point out that the entire state of California has allowed certain EMS to unilaterally charge people for seemingly trivial incident responses. There is actual measured data tracking the decline of public perceptions of EMS in California associated with those policies. Just because it happens in metropolitan areas too doesn’t make it a good thing.

    I would like to offer some free public relations advice. They might get further torqued by somebody saying this, but there are some people in the public getting a little weary of being hit with the “selfless hero” story every time there is something negative floated about something in EMS, and being told by people in EMS that anybody with a comment about EMS should be strongly personally condemned and labeled as irrelevant. Ultimately, that is not the best way to deal with a negative public perception. While that PR strategy will work for a while, repeated use of that strategy by EMS as public perceptions about EMS continue to erode will itself begin to reinforce the negative public perceptions that EMS are trying to deal with. I know I am wasting my time trying to point that out to anybody, but whatever.

    In closing, there were a couple of items mentioned in the flames that I think I am within my rights to respond to. On one of the flames, a reference was made to my use of a large format camera. It wasn’t witty, it was not a cultural reference of any sort. It appears to have been stated solely to demonstrate some degree of personal knowledge about me. I am guessing that he has done some sort of research on me or that I am known to people in local EMS presumably due to opinions I might have communicated to non-EMS third parties somewhere. I think it should be pointed out that if I were to have made a comment like that about somebody in EMS, it would be considered threatening and actionable.

    Also, both commenters seemed to have taken grand exception to the use of ‘Billy Bobs and Jethros’ in the course of my comment. I’m not appologizing for that one. If rural EMS respond to incidents because of the economic incentives presented by this law, that’s what y’all are going to look like. If you are offended by that, that’s your problem, not mine and not the publics.

    I think it should be pointed out that the collapse of public trust that is being experienced by EMS, both LE and non-LE, is not my fault, it is not the public’s fault. It is the fault of EMS. I have witnessed EMS throughout this state, throughout the country even, respond to events that reflect negatively on EMS exactly the same way these two morans just did: “We’re heros, critics are jerks and their critisisms are irrelevant”. If EMS is incapable of dealing with the substance of any critisism or concerns about EMS, then they have rendered themselves irrelevant to the subject, and thus perhaps the public should consider views of EMS to be irrelevant to the conversation about what we should do about EMS.

  6. Mr Trimble.

    Your snobbish attitude continues. Your references to the “backwards” rural areas is sad, it shows such ignorance of the facts about what is available in the rural world. Please, confine yourself to the more built up areas of the state if you feel more secure there.

    Heroes? Not us. We do stay at Holiday Inn Express, and do drink Heroes Coffee at the Springfield Airport though. I prefer the iced tea at McAlister’s.

    No point in debating with you, you know you are correct in your own little world. Little being a key word there.

    I will tell you, yes, you can call it a speed trap if you wish, but if you speed, you can expect to be pulled over, and with your attitude I feel you would quickly guarantee yourself a ticket. It is not a speed trap, it is called traffic enforcement. Of course, if it catches YOU, it must be a speed trap.

    One final point, call your local EMS provider. Taney county EMS. (417) 334-0821. Ask them if they bill for services. Call Greene county, they use Cox and Mercy EMS. Ask them if they bill for services. Ask them how long they have been doing that. Ask Taney County how long they have been doing that. Then you can school them on how they SHOULD operate, in the world according to Trimble.

    Then let them tell you how much your tax rate would be if they did not bill for services. Yeah, you don’t like that figure do you? I did not think so.

    Have a great day.

    Greg, yes, Brandsville at that point was a subscription based Fire Department. They are now tax based, but still bill for auto accidents. The 21k they make off of taxes just does not go far enough. (you know how that is!)

  7. Yesterday Harry mentioned that I got a couple of comments to my comment I made a couple of years ago, and in a way that might have invited me to respond, and so last night I wrote a response. Apparently I got a flame back within a few minutes. I read this comment on the way to a meeting this morning, and it was sort of depressing–a lot of personal vitriol that didn’t address any of the substance of my concerns. As such, they’re not really relevant to the conversation. One of these guys was supposedly a chief or an administrator of some sort of a fire department or fire district somewhere, and his attitude in his comments is really disappointing, I would have hoped for better, and it didn’t enhance my confidence in the leadership of rural fire districts or all of EMS for that matter, and may have hurt it a little. But thankfully my confidence in the leadership of rural fire districts was restored somewhat later this morning.

    Anyway, i was thinking about this subject as I went to my 9:00AM meeting, and on a lark I asked the other people there what they thought about the subject. I described a hypothetical, you are driving somewhere in rural Missouri, somewhere east of West Plains (for example), and you are in a car accident of somesort at the intersection of Farm Road 666 and State Highway BF or whatever, fault is probably not really relevant to the hypothetical, and maybe the cops show up, maybe they don’t, not relevant, an ambulance comes and hauls you off, and the local fire district shows up and does their thing, maybe an EMT before the ambulance, maybe not, we don’t know, and they direct traffic for a couple of hours while a wrecker hauls off your car. Later you get a bill from the fire district for having guys there to direct traffic while your car is towed. My question: No. 1, were you aware that local fire districts can bill for such services? and No. 2, what do you think about that?

    The responses I got were interesting, and I think they are worth reporting here. There were nine people in the meeting, including myself, not a particularly scientifically representative sample of the community, but maybe broadly representaive. One guy was a retired fireman with several decades of experience who had started one fire district, worked for a municipal department, and then was a chief or administrator or something of another district for a long time and active in training and state level policy, etc etc, and I asked him before presenting the hypothetical to hold off and let the other guys speak first. His response was actually very interesting.

    Anyway, one guy, and Harry knows him (probably knows most of these guys), was just like the people that responded to my comments here on Harry’s blog: “You’re offensive to question this, these people show up to save your lives, if they bill for it you should pay whatever they ask for and not question it, you’re a freeloading idiot, you just don’t want to pay taxes, your insurance company pays it so you shouldn’t care about it, you have no moral right to have an opinion about it, blah blah blah blah” I’m paraphrasing, but I thought it was interesting that he used the same ‘freeloader’ term that was used in one of the flames, though he didn’t simply dismiss me as a Tea Bagger. OK, that was interesting.

    Another guy who I would describe as active in community affairs, on various boards, goes to Lincoln Days, etc etc, was actually aware that fire districts can and do charge for services, and he remembered when that law was passed or changed a decade or two ago, but he wasn’t really sure of how it worked and hadn’t really thought of it much, just sort of sighed and said something about that being the way the system is set up to work, but didn’t really have an opinion.

    Another guy was very much aware of it, had a very negative opinion of it, but didn’t really explain what it was about it that bothered him, and it soon became apparent that he had had a negative experience with a fire district somewhere, the nature of which we didn’t get to hear.

    The other four guys had no idea. Two of them weren’t bothered, mumbling something about how you get mysterious charges for everything these days, and since your insurance company pays it, this one is probably pretty invisible, and their response was along the lines of ‘oh well, . . “. The other two seemed to be more bothered with it. One of them seemed to have had his view of rural fire departments shaken somewhat, and really didn’t want to be exposed to it. I thought that was interesting too.

    Later I had a short conversation with the retired fire district chief about it, and my confidence in the leadership of rural fire districts was restored somewhat because what he was discussing was more on the lines of what i would have expected by somebody thinking about the big picture of what was happening in his industry and his profession and not just a bunch of defensive spit. He explained that years or even decades ago, there was no fire protection at all in most of the rural parts of the state. If there was an incident, passers by responded, and if you had a fire, it was neighbors with buckets and you hoped there was a creek nearby. The lack of fire protection was part of the negative backwards reputation of rural Missouri, and people often didn’t want to travel into or trade in areas that lacked things like fire, police, ambulance, hospitals, clean drinking water, etc etc. (again I’m paraphrasing) And the decision was made, I guess at the state level somewhere, that you should be able to travel or trade anywhere in the state without fear of the lack of basic infrastructure, among them fire protection. They set up a mechanism for the creation of all of these rural local fire protection districts, and there were different schemes for them, some were tax supported, some were subscription or membership, etc, and there would be interagency agreements to allow for scale and the movement of assets if there is a big emergency in somebody’s small district somewhere, but there were some fire districts with budgets of like ten grand that couldn’t even afford personal equipment, let alone apparatus. The purpose of this law was to provide a way of funding for fire districts in areas that lacked the tax base or the political will to provide for a fire district. If you wanted fire protection throughout the state, the only alternative would be either a statewide fire system or direct state funding of all of the rural fire districts, and that system would be politicized, you would probably get a bad misallocation of assets depending on which state senator or rep was more powerful than the others or on which districts were better at lobbying, which is sort of the case with the allocation of grant money. The best system is one in which the allocation and placement of resources is decided on locally by the individual districts and their communities.

    OK, I can see the sense in that, but I still questioned whether this was the best way to fund fire protection, and I asked about the potential for abuses and the distortion in asset allocation that this might drive. He described how the decision to charge was up to the individual fire board, and you had some districts where the board ran things and some districts where the chief or the staff drove all the decisions and the board was there for show, and recognized that there could be some potential for abuse, but he hadn’t really seen it yet (and that the real abuses were actually in the ambulance districts). His district board policy, and that of most, was to charge for anything hazmat and anything large enough to put a dent in the operating budget, which I guess means anything where the district incurs additional costs, like maybe overtime or loss of equipment. He also said that if they did bill for something and it didn’t get paid, they didn’t sue people.

    Anyway, before talking to him, and based on the two responses I got here on this blog, I was beginning to think that any discussion or debate about this subject would have to be done in a way that excluded fire district or EMS people. His explanation was a much better response than I got here on the blog, and although I stand by my critisisms and think there has to be a better way of doing things, and think that this law sets up a recipe for some real abuses, and it gives people yet another reason to avoid travel or trade in rural parts of the state, his conversation restored my faith in the leadership in local fire districts which had been damaged so badly by the flames I got here.

  8. Your offense at how you have been so mistreated and flamed here is duly noted. Of course, I feel like you have done the same to me, so don’t expect much sympathy.

    I too would have hoped for better comments from a supposed educated person such as yourself, but from your very first post you were condescending and quite rude. I suspect I replied in much the same tone.

    And finally, please, don’t come to the rural world. I have spent my time in the urban environment, from NYC, Albany NY, Nashville TN, and others. I simply don’t care for that environment anymore, and am quite glad my grandkids are not growing up in that. If you don’t like the rural world, please don’t come here and make use of our services, our beauty, our people. You won’t like it.

    Have a nice day.

  9. I really should leave this alone, but I really have to respond to this one.

    You have accused me a couple of times of insulting or hating rural people or rural life or rural towns, and it really puzzled me, and I felt a little insulted by the accusation. I glossed over it previously, but it sort of got to me after a while. All I can figure is that you must be really weak on reading comprehension to have misinterpreted things that badly. And I would recommend that you read this and try to comprehend what I am trying to tell you for the third time. You ~~”:MIGHT”~~ actually learn something from it. [Sorry, it’s hard to do a Lewis Black style of delivery at the keyboard.] But it wouldn’t surprise me if you completely ignore it, or even flamed me again for insulting your rural heritage again.

    I grew up in a rural area, not even in town, but seven miles up a crooked highway from the nearest town, and it was an hour and a half to Springfield, two hours or more with any traffic. I grew up where it was sometimes hard to get specialized lawyers, accountants, advertising people, movie crews, engineers, appraisers, theater techs, printers, or whatever to come to us. It was not uncommon for some of these people from Springfield, Kansas City, Tulsa, or Wichita to be reluctant to travel to or do business in a really rural location. Later I fought that again doing economic development work in rural areas for towns that were loosing their Hagale factory or their shoe factory or their casket factory and trying to get some other employer to relocate to their little berg, and they couldn’t understand why some people were reluctant to look at small towns. And then I had to try to figure out what sort of PR thing they could do to attract some of these urban people into the boondocks. And sometimes it’s not easy. Right or wrong, whether based on some negative incident that they actually experienced at the hands of some crooked yokel or some bullshit urban legend they’ve always heard, they have real reasons for being resistant to spending much time in rural areas. And they know that if they do something that might require them to bring other urban people to some rural setting somewhere, they know they are going to run into the same reluctance they are feeling.

    Right or wrong, deserved or not, your fault, my fault, nobody’s fault, for whatever reason, there is a negative perception of the risks of travel and trade in rural areas held by a lot of urban people, and even in the minds of other rural people. And ya know what? Rural areas are economically disadvantaged because of it. It sucks, you can whine all you want about how I’m insulting your dignity or your rural pride when I talk about it, but it’s there.

    AND it is a negative perception that

    1. can be reversed ONLY with continuous sustained positive experiences that run counter to the negative perception, and

    2. will be strongly reinforced by any negative experience or even by hearing somebody else’s story, whether true or embellished, about a negative experience in a rural setting.

    So what happens when their friend comes home from a trip and says, ” we had a car accident. The hospital ripped us, the ambulance ripped us, I have no idea where my car is. Oh, and we just got a bill in the mail for $ 622 from some ‘fire protection district’ that we’ve never heard of, [whatever a fire protection district is, ] who says a couple of their guys directed traffic while our car was towed saying they’re gonna sue us if we don’t pay it. ” That’s going to very very strongly reinforce any negative perception they have about traveling to or doing business in a rural area. And rural areas everywhere, not just that town, but particularly that town, are going to be further economically disadvantaged by it. Since people have this idea that they already pay taxes (somewhere) for fire protection, and think of it as universal and ubiquitous and (what else?) contrafibularious, getting a bill for it is a negative experience that runs counter to the positive perception they previously had about firemen, particularly rural firemen, so I think it’s also bad for fire districts, not jut their rural communities, but that’s another subject you can flame me on later if you want.

    And that is one of the three or four or five reasons I had for thinking this law is really not a good way of doing things. I wasn’t insulting rural life, rural culture, rural people, the rural ‘world’, whatever that is, and that leads me to something else I think needs to be said about what you wrote.

    You are a fire chief of some sort. I picture somebody with a lot of years in some local EMS thing, whether LE, fire, ambulance, rounding out his retirement as the fire chief probably wearing a white shirt with a gold badge above the pocket and saying something like ” Mister . . . I don’t think you otta come to our town.” Do you have any idea how that looks ??? [I can’t give it justice at the keyboard, but I’m thinking an accent somewhere between Jock Ewing, Sherrif Longmire and Buford Justice] Talk about reinforcing a negative perception–WOW. That makes me want to do one of two things.

    Either A: The next time somebody calls and begs me to help with a deal in some really rural place, I’m gonna think “wow, I’m really not wanted there, I used to think it was my personality thinking I wasn’t welcome, but somebody in authority actually told me I wasn’t welcome, so the hell with it, I’ll just let ’em rot, or fry, or whatever”. That is not that far fetched. A couple of years ago I got a frantic call from a bank to do a quarry deal over the other side of West Plains where the guy needed to renew his deal or he was gonna have to be foreclosed and I was the only quarry guy in the region and as it turned out, I was the only game in town for this deal. I was really reluctant to get involved with it, for reasons other than it being rural, but I wonder if I had had this exchange right before dealing with them on it whether it would have affected my willingness to do that deal.

    Or 2: It makes me wonder where do you get off telling me where I should or shouldn’t go or do business. “don’t come to my world” ?? that world belongs to you?? Really??

    And the use of the term ‘world’. It assumes that rural life and urban life exist in two different realities. It doesn’t There is a real urban/rural split in Missouri politics as well as in business that I’ve had to fight and work around all my life. Having grown up rural, I always blamed it on urban people, but what you wrote shows me that maybe rural people are just as bad at keeping the ‘worlds’ separate.

    Anyway, I’m done. Flame away.

    Oh, and I almost forgot. I just remembered who Greg Carttar was. I do know him, though I’m not sure how he knows anything about my work with large format photography. He’s the audio setup guy, really knows his stuff, works the whole country, and often for musicians that appreciate real audio quality. And his FB page shows he’s into all kinds of other interesting stuff. Yeah, that’s really too bad.

  10. Gosh. I am such a country bumpkin, a jethro, that I simply not comprehend what you are saying.

    As I said, if you are not comfortable coming into the rural world, then don’t. Life will go on for both of us. I suspect if you do come here, all the terrible things that you think will happen, will. You will get a ticket if you speed. You will get a bill if you have a wreck. The waitress a the cafe will call you honey, and you will stiff her for her tip. She will call you a carpetbagger, you will call her a rube. (carpetbagger is not always from up nawth)

    Long ago I sold an advanced radio system for a city here in the rural world. Nice system, and during the sales process, the Fire Chief, the Police Chief, and the Mayor went down to Little Rock to visit with the largest two way radio dealer in the US at their regional office. They were ushered into this very nice office, and then the sales people treated them in much the same manner that you are using here, very condescending. Clinched the deal right there for me. Nice little 7 figure deal that got that large manufacturer very upset that they lost it.

    I deal with folks in the rural world and the urban world daily. My business takes to to all kinds of territories, as I have properties from Maine to Colorado. Big cities, little towns. I treat all the people like I want to be treated. No one has run from me saying “he is from a rural area, RUN RUN!!!. Strange huh?


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