Tragic, Sad, Fire Protection Lesson

Steve Tupper’s house burned to the ground Wednesday night in rural Ada County south of Kuna-Mora Road and because he lived outside any fire protection district, no fire trucks responded.

KTVB-TV had Tupper on camera and he felt “someone” should have responded.

Tupper’s tragedy is a common tale and a risk accepted by everyone who chooses to live in unprotected areas. No fire service is offered in the area, so he pays no taxes for service.
Ada County has no county-wide fire protection and the reason is that in remote sparsely populated areas it is too late to do anything by the time firefighters can respond. The cities aim for a 3-5 minute response and some areas would require a 15-30 minute response.

Also, there is no water system for hydrants and not enough structures to provide a tax base for closer service. For example: if it costs $500,000 a year to run a station, with a couple of engines, staffed with volunteers and there are only 5 houses in the area, they each would have to pay $100,000 a year in fire protection taxes. Cheaper to take the risk.

The Emergency Medical Service is a county wide agency and ambulances respond. everywhere. Same is true for the sheriff.

Boise has contracts authorized by the City Council to provide “hazardous material” responses on the highways outside the city in exchange for Federal funding. Same is true for the bomb squad which gets Homeland Defense funds, equipment, and training.

As budgets get tight and more people live outside cities, there is a tendency for cities to simply “protect their own” and not leave their boundaries. Fire protection is like an insurance policy. You can’t just pay the premium only when you have a loss. EVERYONE has to pay and hope to never need the service.

Rural residents don’t have sewers, water, parks, trash collection, street lights, neighbors or HIGH TAXES. Fire department did the right thing in this case and if Tupper lived in the city he may still have a house.

Insurance in unprotected areas is high because THEY don’t like to take the risk.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. You hit the nail right on the head. I work for Boise fire and this happens all the time. We can’t be the protectors of everyone in the county, even though it pains us to not be able to do it. What if we respond out to the rural areas, highway out of town or a river rescue in Boise county and a house is on fire or help is needed in the city limits? The fire department is already stretched with only two ladder trucks for the whole city! We want to go and help everyone if we could, but we swore to protect the citizens of Boise City. It’s hard to watch your house burn and no one is there to help. I feel for anyone who has to go through that. With that said, a sprinkler system for every rural house is a great way to protect out of the way homes.

  2. Give me a break. Firefighters are the laziest of public servants. I so sick of the media potraying them as some kind of great heros. They should respond even if out of a sense for basic decency.

  3. Ron–
    Should the building inspectors, zoning people, dog catcher, and cops also respond out of a “sense of decency?” The guy gambled and lost the bet.

  4. Whoa …you guys are intense. I’d like to ask Boisean (sic) what happens if there are a couple of vehicle accidents with spills and injuries, a house fire, a high rise fire and another structure fire in the City limits? Who loses then? Is there some triage of incidents? Do crews leave one to attend to another? If “minimum manning” is a problem do we pull staff in off Kelly days, booktime, etc.?

    I agree that this is a serious risk people take when they live in unprotected areas. I also think we live and die by mutual aid agreements, contracts with other districts, union rules and whatever other bureaucratic vehicle we can dream up. Chances are the house would have been nothing but ash by the time the truck got there, in this case. But, don’t everyone jump out of his lazyboy at once.

  5. First, I’m no hero. I hate that label and so does every other firefighter I know. It’s something that the media keeps alive. To me, it is embarassing. I love my job and I am glad I can do it. As the most lazy, I don’t think I am but Ronald seems bitter and I will never change his mind.
    Tam, good questions. The picture you paint would be one bad day. We go to calls as they are dispatched. We could never leave a fire if we were needed there. There is a very clear and well thought out dispatch matrix. We do call people back if there is a need. We don’t have a choice. If they need you in you get your butt in to help. We also have mutual aid agreements with surrounding districts to help. If the US bank building were on fire, I would want to be there to help.
    I think you have a wrong view of us lying around in lazyboys. That is far from what happens at a fire station on a daily basis. We have strict rules about what work, training and daily duties need to be done and we are evaluated on them. Come down and check it out.
    Firefights and cops are really like every other worker. Not lazy, not heroes, just a piece of the city government. We’re like an insurance policy Something you pay for and hope you never have to use. If you are unlucky enough to need to call us, I hope we do a good job for you and your family.

  6. What a nice letter, Boisean. No taking the bait about that “lazy” remark. I, for one, really appreciate the fire department and have had to call for help for myself or someone else more than once.

    My rule in walking is that I wave at firemen, cops and school bus drivers. They are all heroes in my book, and doing work I couldn’t do.

  7. Shades of Mrs. O’leary!-Tupper’s dilemma is a microcosm of New Orleans. Here we have this huge, well equipped , well paid govt. and bureaucracy doing nothing as this man’s house burned down. Common sense say’s that’s very wrong! We have the tax funds to set aside enough to re-pay those units able to answer calls like Mr. Tupper’s.

  8. I read the Statesman article on this and it said that he was able to pay for fire protection from one of the districts and DIDN’T. Granted It was from the Statesman, but there are a lot of facts we don’t know about, and choices made way before the fire.

    Ed note–
    We fear he was so far out of a district that no service is offered at ANY price.

  9. Does anyone know who foots the bill when one of those mansions on 40 acres in the Boise foothills is about to burn from a range fire? I assume they are in the county. Or do they get a free retardant drop from a passing bomber? I’d be willing to bet if you live in one of those remote areas, your chances of getting some help in the case of fire is greater when you live in a mega-mansion. This is Boise after all.

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