Smoke & Ladders, C.O.D.
by Patricia Draznin

I’m making a New Year’s resolution to be extra cautious about preventing fires in this town—to never burn a candle, light a match, or even think about ordering Bananas Flambé. As you’ve probably heard, some of our nation’s smaller fire departments are tired of putting out our local fires for free. And we’re talking… what, one fire per month, easily. That would annoy the heck out of any firefighter. Because if they’ve told us once they’ve told us a thousand times, to just be more careful.

In the spirit of civil service, the fire companies are still taking our calls. But the next time you yell FIRE, the item you’ll want to rescue from the burning building is your checkbook. Because effective immediately, those big red trucks will arrive bearing hoses, ladders, and an invoice with your name on it. Gratuity included. And state tax, to cover your local services.

You can also pay by phone using the new automated Pay Per Spray format:

“Thank you for calling the Pleasant Valley Fire Department. Please enter your 16-digit credit card number now. Or stay on the line for the next fire account manager. Your cry for help is important to us.”

Or you can select from the a la carte menu online at Smoke-and-ladders.com:

  • Grass fires: $150
  • Extracting someone from a vehicle: $300
  • Extracting someone from a vehicle who doesn’t want to be extracted: $685
  • House fires:
    • During business hours: $450
    • Nights and weekends: $750
    • During Super Bowl:$1,530 (just 12 easy payments of $127.50).

Don’t be surprised if your fire team arrives wearing money belts like the old Good Humor drivers, asking for two forms of ID. NOTE: This would not be a good time to have a past balance due. If you haven’t been keeping a slush fund for unscheduled combustion, you can always try negotiating. (Example: “Can you just rescue my home entertainment system?”)

It’s only a matter of time until this C.O.D. policy ignites a bidding war for fire alarms. The good news is that the lowest bidder will come to your rescue. The bad news is that the lowest bidder will come to your rescue. (“I thought YOU brought the buckets.”) On the brighter side, as firefighting enters the private sector they’ll be ramping up customer service to win our loyalty. (“How did you hear about our service? Would you recommend us to your friends?”) This, in turn, will inspire entrepreneurial fire companies to spring up locally, sparking price wars and seductive promotions like The Blue Flame Special, two prairie fires for the price of one. (NOTE: Don’t be shy to ask exactly what service they’re offering. Be alert for answers like, “How far is your home from public transportation?”)

That’s the fire update, my friends. I have to go now and pay my bills—just the usual: telephone, electric, sheriff, postman, state senator… and taxes.

Copyright 2005 Patricia Draznin


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