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Infrastructure Lesson 4

Lesson 4: Fire Protection - A Public Good Problem?


In this lesson, we will use the topic of fire protection to explore the ideas of public goods, free riding, and externalities. Fire protection is often provided by local governments and funded through county property taxes and other surcharges and fees. In rural areas, fire protection is sometimes funded through special fire protection district taxes or offered on an optional basis to residents of unprotected counties by nearby counties with organized fire protection programs.

In the past few years there have been several news stories about people either forgetting or refusing to pay fire taxes (usually around $75), then watching their houses burn down because the fire department would not assist them when their homes caught fire. This lesson uses those scenarios to explore the ideas of public goods (like security services), free-riding (how do those services get funded if people don’t pay for them?), and externalities (how does your consumption of fire protection affect your neighbors?).

Key Terms:

  • Infrastructure
  • Public Goods
  • Free-Riding
  • Externalities (Positive and Negative)
  • Hard Infrastructure
  • Soft Infrastructure


  1. Introduction and discussion question.
  2. Review of key terms pertaining to this lesson.
  3. Group brainstorm about Infrastructure of fire protection.
  4. Class discussion of fire protection scenario.
  5. Small group discussion of possible solutions.


  1. Full Lesson Plan - Includes Lesson Overview, Teacher Instructions, and Student Handouts.
  2. Teacher Instructions
  3. Student Handouts
The design, development, validation and publication of these infrastructure teaching modules was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, Grant #1334292, and the Global Projects Center at Stanford University. All opinions and conclusions expressed in this paper reflect the views of the author/s, and not necessarily the views of these sponsors.