Firefighters (from another jurisdiction) stood by and allowed a house to burn because the man hadn’t paid a $75 annual firefighting fee. There was no local (and hence tax-funded) firefighting unit. This is bad, because the firefighters weren’t doing their job.
I think the homeowner was completely irresponsible; what’s $75 a year for fire protection? Far less than his property taxes or insurance, that’s for sure. The actual cost of fighting that fire is most likely much, much more than $75 (if we estimate 5 firefighters, 3 hours to fight the fire thoroughly, and $15 / hour average wage, that’s $225, which doesn’t include wear on equipment, water supply, and the cost of not being able to fight a fire somewhere else), so the $75 is just an insurance payment, not a fee-for-service. If the firefighters were to charge him then and there, I’d say that something like $500 would be the bargain-basement price (and the firefighters are clearly in a superior bargaining position). So although I’m sympathetic to the man who lost his house, he really pulled the roof down over his own head. He tried to get a free ride off his neighbors, took a risk, and got burned. He was completely and utterly irresponsible to himself, his home, his pets, and his family.
But then why am I not happy with the firefighters? Well, as a result of the firefighters standing by, a neighbor, who had paid the fee, had his field catch fire from the house. The firefighters put it out, but imagine if the fire had burned out of control and resulted in massive property damage? They stood buy to punish the freeloader, but that’s not good for the consumer (i.e. the neighbors). The dearth of firefighting is directly related to the presence of freeloaders.
Although I’m very much in favor of letting private companies provide many services to society, in this case there are negative risks and consequences for having a private fee-to-firefight service that excludes non-paying neighbors. That means it’s extremely easy for nonpayers to essentially mooch off their paying neighbors if the firefighters really did do all they could do to protect their clients’ property. The government should be providing services like these that aren’t working well within the market. These are the kinds of public services governments are made for providing. International defense, police, fire, and law. The classic four services are classic for a good reason.