Rural firefighters stood by and watched a fire destroy a garage and a vehicle because the property owner had not paid membership dues.

Bibaldo Rueda — who was injured battling the flames Monday — offered to pay the dues as the fire blazed away, but the Monett Rural Fire Department does not have a policy for on-the-spot billing, Sheriff's Detective Robert Evenson said.

Fire Chief Ronnie Myers defended the no-pay, no-aid policy, saying the membership-based organization could not survive if people thought the department would respond for free. The department said it will fight a fire without question if a life is believed to be in danger.

Rueda used a garden hose and buckets to fight the flames while firefighters stood by on the road, watching in case the blaze spread to neighboring properties owned by members. The fire eventually burned itself out.

Rueda said no one told him about the dues policy when he moved in 1 1/2 years ago.