Can’t or Won’t? The South Fulton Fire

By now everyone in the Fire Service should be aware of the events of late September in Obion County, just outside of South Fulton in northwestern Tennessee.
If not, here is the short version:

Gene Cranick, a resident of the rural area outside the City of South Fulton, TN, reported a structural fire at his home on Buddy Jones Road. This call for aid was declined by the City of South Fulton because the home owner had not been current on the $75 annual subscription fee required by the City Fire Department to respond to fires. They “CAN’T” respond. After repeated calls from neighbors the City did send engines to the fire with orders from the Chief, David Wilds, and the Mayor of South Fulton, David Crocker, not to extinguish the fire.
When interviewed on MSNBC, the homeowner stated that in recent years the fee has been waived, fires extinguished and the homeowner had 30 days to become current on the fee, but was told at the scene that practice was no longer allowed.
When the fire spread to a neighbor’s fence, firefighters deployed hoselines to protect…the fence of the paying neighbor. When that neighbor told firefighters to train their lines onto the burning home they refused.

As a result the home burnt to the ground. No one was injured, thankfully, but this event has sparked a controversy on dozens of topics on a number of levels.
Why didn’t he just pay the fee?
Why is there a fee?
Where was the local FD?
Can’t they just put out the fire and worry about it later?
Pay to play?

and so on and so on.

The most surprising thing I heard, however, were political commentators claiming this was a success of the system, that now residents will surely pay their fees for the fire department.
“Fees for the fire department?” Are we now going for Government ala cart? I for one would subscribe to that, I’ll pay for roads, schools, police, fire and healthcare, but not the Army or Navy. But if we get invaded can I hide in my neighbor’s house? What if he pays for the Army and I pay for the rest, can we share? Can we be neighborly?

Can we be neighborly?

City of South Fulton is not a metropolitan fire department sporting 43 houses, with 3 engines and 2 trucks on every report of smoke in a building. From what I can gather, they have 19 volunteer personnel and one Chief, plus explorers and are protecting an area roughly 10 square miles. This is no easy task, and with budgets shrinking, small departments like this have to put off training, new equipment, radio upgrades, etc until funds return. It is simple to point the finger at them and demand they respond to the rural area of Obion County.
The fire in question occurred approximately 2 miles from their station, a drive of 6-8 minutes. They likely saw the smoke.
Asking this Department to suddenly cover all the rural areas without an increase in funding is ridiculous.

But they do cover the areas, so long as you’ve paid your fee. They “WON’T” respond unless you have.

The $75 subscription fee DOES NOT go towards covering Fire Suppression services for the rural areas of Obion County, but into the general fund of South Fulton, allowing them to build a new County Law Enforcement Complex. It does look nice. Quite a contrast to Mr Cranick’s burnt out home, but shiny.

Even worse, is that the City of South Fulton spends time and money to collect the fees using mail and phone calls, likely cutting into that $75 by half just to collect. And not even to support actual fire fighting efforts.

This is a fee designed by politicians to increase general funds to cover other projects, plain and simple. I don’t believe a person should pay County taxes and a separate Fire fee in order to have a new law enforcement complex. The County has law enforcement, why not a County Fire Department?

The “S Fulton” Fire, as it is being called is not the result of lazy firefighters or an insensitive Fire Chief, but a corrupted political system that saw a chance to scare people into donating into their piggy banks and took it.
Along with it they took the home of a tax paying citizen of Obion County. Did Mr Cranick break the “rules” by not paying the $75 fee? Absolutely. Did the Mayor break the rules by letting the house burn down? No, as he reminds us, he is only doing what the system says he has to do.

The Mayor even made the analogy that we would not expect an insurance company to pay out after an accident if they let their coverage lapse. Of course not. But this is not fire insurance Mr Mayor, this is fire PROTECTION. We tried Fire Service for profit in the late 18th century, it ended badly. Look it up.

Better yet, how about diverting that $75 a year to the South Fulton Fire Department and not your pet projects Mr Mayor? Maybe after a couple of years the Dept will have the personnel and equipment to offer services County Wide.

All sides are at fault, but let’s not get crazy with claims that the pay to play system is the way to go. Far from it. Basic services should be made available to all residents. Period.

Maybe the County will let the Cranick family live in the Law Enforcement Complex.

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58 thoughts on “Can’t or Won’t? The South Fulton Fire”

  1. I can sympathize with just about everyone involved in this situation (except perhaps the politicians)…but I can’t help but say, maybe dude could have ponied the $6.25/month to avoid this thing altogether.

    Is the whole thing shady? Yup. Do I want to be the test to push the system’s envelope? Hell no. My biggest issue is the way the media is playing the “FF Watch as House Burns”. Makes you all sound like cowarding douchebags…and we all know that’s so much bullshit.

    On the other hand, now you kids can have a taste of our medicine when we tase some coked up wife beater and he dies and the resulting media firestorm blames us for killing the man that was “turning his life around”. Frustrating…

  2. I can sympathize with just about everyone involved in this situation (except perhaps the politicians)…but I can’t help but say, maybe dude could have ponied the $6.25/month to avoid this thing altogether.

    Is the whole thing shady? Yup. Do I want to be the test to push the system’s envelope? Hell no. My biggest issue is the way the media is playing the “FF Watch as House Burns”. Makes you all sound like cowarding douchebags…and we all know that’s so much bullshit.

    On the other hand, now you kids can have a taste of our medicine when we tase some coked up wife beater and he dies and the resulting media firestorm blames us for killing the man that was “turning his life around”. Frustrating…

  3. I can sympathize with just about everyone involved in this situation (except perhaps the politicians)…but I can’t help but say, maybe dude could have ponied the $6.25/month to avoid this thing altogether.

    Is the whole thing shady? Yup. Do I want to be the test to push the system’s envelope? Hell no. My biggest issue is the way the media is playing the “FF Watch as House Burns”. Makes you all sound like cowarding douchebags…and we all know that’s so much bullshit.

    On the other hand, now you kids can have a taste of our medicine when we tase some coked up wife beater and he dies and the resulting media firestorm blames us for killing the man that was “turning his life around”. Frustrating…

  4. http://connect.jems.com/video/illinois-officials-learn-et

    Maybe it’s a stretch, or one beyond those with narrow minds, but if the South Fulton area had an awareness program, maybe the message (pay-for-service, department abilities and limitations) might be reinforced? October comes around every year, amazingly, and the fire service does its bit about smoke detectors and fire prevention and home safety. Maybe we need to throw in what we can and cannot do as well.

    The Illinois example is a decent model. Change to typical ‘open house’ car fire and/or auto extrication demonstration into something that our constituents would be more interested in hearing. This bit of being the “first line of defense” among public safety has become a worn out cliche, especially if you have to bill for stretching a line.

    Bill Carey

  5. http://connect.jems.com/video/illinois-officials-learn-et

    Maybe it’s a stretch, or one beyond those with narrow minds, but if the South Fulton area had an awareness program, maybe the message (pay-for-service, department abilities and limitations) might be reinforced? October comes around every year, amazingly, and the fire service does its bit about smoke detectors and fire prevention and home safety. Maybe we need to throw in what we can and cannot do as well.

    The Illinois example is a decent model. Change to typical ‘open house’ car fire and/or auto extrication demonstration into something that our constituents would be more interested in hearing. This bit of being the “first line of defense” among public safety has become a worn out cliche, especially if you have to bill for stretching a line.

    Bill Carey

  6. I have a hard time generating any sympathy for somebody who goes on Keith Olbermann to complain about the consequences of their own (in)actions.

    Maybe next time he and his neighbors will vote for an actual fire tax like they’ve been rejecting for 20 years.

  7. I have a hard time generating any sympathy for somebody who goes on Keith Olbermann to complain about the consequences of their own (in)actions.

    Maybe next time he and his neighbors will vote for an actual fire tax like they’ve been rejecting for 20 years.

  8. You hit the nail on the head HM. The system and politics are the problem, administered for the profit of other programs. Fire Protection needs to be in place for all areas, paid for by the taxes of the residents. In my county there are several taxing entities (Townships) that cannot afford their own FD and contract with neighboring areas to provide that service for their entire area of responsibility.

  9. You hit the nail on the head HM. The system and politics are the problem, administered for the profit of other programs. Fire Protection needs to be in place for all areas, paid for by the taxes of the residents. In my county there are several taxing entities (Townships) that cannot afford their own FD and contract with neighboring areas to provide that service for their entire area of responsibility.

  10. This is one of the best written posts I have seen on this unfortunate incident yet. I feel like the FD is being made the fall guy in this whole scenario, and I’m not so sure they had anything to do w/ the making of the policy in the first place.

    It almost seems (not that they necessarily have any control of this) that it would best for the FD to just not respond outside of their jurisdiction at all. Unless they were contracted for all of it and received tax money to their operating budget.

    And thanks for digging up some additional info. Well written, as always, Happy…

    ~RD

  11. This is one of the best written posts I have seen on this unfortunate incident yet. I feel like the FD is being made the fall guy in this whole scenario, and I’m not so sure they had anything to do w/ the making of the policy in the first place.

    It almost seems (not that they necessarily have any control of this) that it would best for the FD to just not respond outside of their jurisdiction at all. Unless they were contracted for all of it and received tax money to their operating budget.

    And thanks for digging up some additional info. Well written, as always, Happy…

    ~RD

  12. The same thing happened to my dad back in 1983. Our house burned down while the fire fighters watched and made sure it didn’t spread. Fire Department was in Pulaski County Missouri. My dad’s reason for not paying the fee was the Fire department was 5 miles away and by time they would get there it wouldn’t matter. Of course on paved country road thats like only 5 minutes. Dad never really blamed the fire fighters. He blamed himself. He never got over losing everything. Pictures and treasured things that hold special memory can’t be replaced. Everything else can. My heart goes out to the home owner but for everyone else my Dad never blamed the FF and neither should you.

  13. The same thing happened to my dad back in 1983. Our house burned down while the fire fighters watched and made sure it didn’t spread. Fire Department was in Pulaski County Missouri. My dad’s reason for not paying the fee was the Fire department was 5 miles away and by time they would get there it wouldn’t matter. Of course on paved country road thats like only 5 minutes. Dad never really blamed the fire fighters. He blamed himself. He never got over losing everything. Pictures and treasured things that hold special memory can’t be replaced. Everything else can. My heart goes out to the home owner but for everyone else my Dad never blamed the FF and neither should you.

  14. The fire was outside of the jurisdiction of South Fulton and they had no obligation to provide fire protection to an adjacent jurisdiction. Had the fee been paid, the fire protection courtesy would have been provided. Maybe Harold Shaitberger and his IAFF cronies will go down to Tennessee and start up a volunteer company in Olbion County….

  15. The fire was outside of the jurisdiction of South Fulton and they had no obligation to provide fire protection to an adjacent jurisdiction. Had the fee been paid, the fire protection courtesy would have been provided. Maybe Harold Shaitberger and his IAFF cronies will go down to Tennessee and start up a volunteer company in Olbion County….

  16. Fee or no fee paid, to BE THERE and watch a home burn is INHUMAN! When a child burns to death, there won’t be any jokes about it. I have thought firefighters were heros since 911 but I guess they are all not heros or even human!

  17. Fee or no fee paid, to BE THERE and watch a home burn is INHUMAN! When a child burns to death, there won’t be any jokes about it. I have thought firefighters were heros since 911 but I guess they are all not heros or even human!

  18. What if an EMS crew refused to treat and transport a diaphoretic chest pain patient because they “hadn’t paid their subscription” ? Would any commenters be defending their actions?

    1. Different scenario. Health care costs are reimbursable through medicaid (and we know how well that’s working out.) One needs to look at the total question…. There is no county fire protection and the residents have routinely voted down a fire levy. The bad thing finally happened because the dance was held and no one paid the band. To take a political bent on this issue, if no one pays the bills how do you expect for the service to be provided. These are the same questions which the current administration thinks can be solved by printing more money. If you want the service, it must be paid for…

      1. “Health care costs are reimbursable through medicaid …..” since when? Most of my patients don’t have insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid and payment is NEVER a consideration in my dealings with them.

        The issue here is “firefighters” stood and watched a mans house burn to the ground with hoses in their hands!

        Protecting life AND property has to be more than meaningless words in a motto

    2. You are comparing human life equally to property damage. That comparison doesn’t wash. No human life was involved in the Obion County fire under discussion.

  19. What if an EMS crew refused to treat and transport a diaphoretic chest pain patient because they “hadn’t paid their subscription” ? Would any commenters be defending their actions?

    1. Different scenario. Health care costs are reimbursable through medicaid (and we know how well that’s working out.) One needs to look at the total question…. There is no county fire protection and the residents have routinely voted down a fire levy. The bad thing finally happened because the dance was held and no one paid the band. To take a political bent on this issue, if no one pays the bills how do you expect for the service to be provided. These are the same questions which the current administration thinks can be solved by printing more money. If you want the service, it must be paid for…

      1. “Health care costs are reimbursable through medicaid …..” since when? Most of my patients don’t have insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid and payment is NEVER a consideration in my dealings with them.

        The issue here is “firefighters” stood and watched a mans house burn to the ground with hoses in their hands!

        Protecting life AND property has to be more than meaningless words in a motto

    2. You are comparing human life equally to property damage. That comparison doesn’t wash. No human life was involved in the Obion County fire under discussion.

  20. A point to make to one of the posters about what if a child burns to death. It is my understanding that they respond fee or no fee on any type of subject trapped or in danger. This method was very common in South Carolina south of Myrtle Beach until enough things like this happened that the citizens voted in a fire tax. In no way am I suggesting that this is a way to go just facts.

  21. A point to make to one of the posters about what if a child burns to death. It is my understanding that they respond fee or no fee on any type of subject trapped or in danger. This method was very common in South Carolina south of Myrtle Beach until enough things like this happened that the citizens voted in a fire tax. In no way am I suggesting that this is a way to go just facts.

  22. Does anyone here understand that the county residents:
    a) pay absolutely zero towards any fire department
    b) have voted down the formation of a county-wide department because it would raise property taxes by about $50/year?
    c) if you “just put the fire out anyway” no one will need to pay the subscription fee, you will basically create a county of freeloaders who game the system, which is what this homeowner was trying to do.

    The equipment costs, the training costs, same for liability, fuel, salaries, etc. Tell you what, I live in Australia, anyone who says they should have put the fire out regardless: I expect you to all fly, at your own cost, to Australia to fight bush fire this season. You’ll need to pay for your gear, trip, training, housing, etc, but to let houses burn and property get destroyed is immoral and makes you horrible human beings.

    Hell, I’ll go another step – do you see the parallels between this and health care reform? Obama’s program says (basically): everyone needs to be covered, no one can be denied, we’ll subsidise you if you’re too poor to afford it. This is how most tax-based fire departments work. We usually don’t need to watch a house burn down, but we’re sure as hell prepared to watch someone with a chronic disease go untreated!

    1. OK, I am seeing Alot of diversity on this subject. I am all for Fire fighters getting paid however if you are saying that these Firefighters watching someones house burn down is a decent thing to do because they didnt pay a Fee, you gotta be kidding me. this really sounds like good ole fashion extortion, Who is running this county Don Corleone? to address a problem like this you tack on a response fee onto his Property tax next year you dont let his house burn down. you gotta be an idiot to let the guys house burn down now he will probably move out of the county and you wont collect nothing from him so now you are out even the small amount of fuel it took to go roast marshmallows on the guys house……why dont you go think this through?

      1. No one is running the County FD…it doesn’t exist. A separate FD offers Fire Protection for a fee outside of their municipality to the citizens of Obion County. They don’t have to do it, but they offer it. The subscribers (ones who pay the fee) get fire protection.
        The ones who don’t pay the fee don’t get protection. Plain and simple.

        This is not extortion.

  23. Does anyone here understand that the county residents:
    a) pay absolutely zero towards any fire department
    b) have voted down the formation of a county-wide department because it would raise property taxes by about $50/year?
    c) if you “just put the fire out anyway” no one will need to pay the subscription fee, you will basically create a county of freeloaders who game the system, which is what this homeowner was trying to do.

    The equipment costs, the training costs, same for liability, fuel, salaries, etc. Tell you what, I live in Australia, anyone who says they should have put the fire out regardless: I expect you to all fly, at your own cost, to Australia to fight bush fire this season. You’ll need to pay for your gear, trip, training, housing, etc, but to let houses burn and property get destroyed is immoral and makes you horrible human beings.

    Hell, I’ll go another step – do you see the parallels between this and health care reform? Obama’s program says (basically): everyone needs to be covered, no one can be denied, we’ll subsidise you if you’re too poor to afford it. This is how most tax-based fire departments work. We usually don’t need to watch a house burn down, but we’re sure as hell prepared to watch someone with a chronic disease go untreated!

    1. OK, I am seeing Alot of diversity on this subject. I am all for Fire fighters getting paid however if you are saying that these Firefighters watching someones house burn down is a decent thing to do because they didnt pay a Fee, you gotta be kidding me. this really sounds like good ole fashion extortion, Who is running this county Don Corleone? to address a problem like this you tack on a response fee onto his Property tax next year you dont let his house burn down. you gotta be an idiot to let the guys house burn down now he will probably move out of the county and you wont collect nothing from him so now you are out even the small amount of fuel it took to go roast marshmallows on the guys house……why dont you go think this through?

      1. No one is running the County FD…it doesn’t exist. A separate FD offers Fire Protection for a fee outside of their municipality to the citizens of Obion County. They don’t have to do it, but they offer it. The subscribers (ones who pay the fee) get fire protection.
        The ones who don’t pay the fee don’t get protection. Plain and simple.

        This is not extortion.

  24. Um why not make it a volly dept? I live in an area where both fire and EMS is volley. We have fund raiser to support our costs. We dont charge for our services, we dont get subsides from the town or county, we just do it.

    I dont see why they HAVE to get paid, if they volley its a win win for everyone. No pay to play fees going to pet projects, no house burns as fire watches, no one burns, and the fire guys get to cover more areas with more men. All they need to do is have a fund raiser every year. Pancake breakfast, road drive, mailers, ect ect. Rent out the hall for extra cash even.

    My squad is fully volly with no subsidies and we have paid for our building, we have fully equipt rigs, and we dont charge to transport anyone. We do all this through donations and fund raisers. I dont see why others cant.

    1. The area in question doesn’t have ANY fire department. It’s difficult to make something that doesn’t exist into a volunteer something that doesn’t exist.

      The fire department that responded was a city fire department that can’t afford to give away free fire protection outside their jurisdiction.

  25. Um why not make it a volly dept? I live in an area where both fire and EMS is volley. We have fund raiser to support our costs. We dont charge for our services, we dont get subsides from the town or county, we just do it.

    I dont see why they HAVE to get paid, if they volley its a win win for everyone. No pay to play fees going to pet projects, no house burns as fire watches, no one burns, and the fire guys get to cover more areas with more men. All they need to do is have a fund raiser every year. Pancake breakfast, road drive, mailers, ect ect. Rent out the hall for extra cash even.

    My squad is fully volly with no subsidies and we have paid for our building, we have fully equipt rigs, and we dont charge to transport anyone. We do all this through donations and fund raisers. I dont see why others cant.

    1. The area in question doesn’t have ANY fire department. It’s difficult to make something that doesn’t exist into a volunteer something that doesn’t exist.

      The fire department that responded was a city fire department that can’t afford to give away free fire protection outside their jurisdiction.

  26. This was classic government failure. These firefighters were government bureaucrats who had to do things by the book, and ignore both profits and morality. Private firefighters would have put out the fire in a jiffy for a tidy profit, given that most of their costs are fixed. A reasonable price, say $10k, would have been a great deal for Cranick too. A for-profit company would have a strong incentive to keep the cost reasonable, since reputation is critical for private companies not backed by government coercion.

    These firefighters did NOT operate on a private, for-profit basis. They acted EXACTLY like government employees. Union City Fire Chief: “Right, wrong or indifferent, it was not the decision of the South Fulton Fire Chief or of his firefighters to not put water on the structure. Their orders came from their city manager and mayor.”

    1. Filby, you are confused. The firefighters did indeed operate on a private basis, it just wasn’t for profit, because they are part of another jurisdiction’s municipal fire department.

      Obion County seems to have no provisions to allow post-fire billing of the type you advocate, which means your solution won’t work there.

      Obion County intentionally provides no fire protection, because that is the will of the majority of the local citizens. South Fulton would be within their rights to provide NO fire protection outside their jurisdiction. Instead, they create public-private partnerships (subscriptions) to serve individual clients outside the city.

      Those who intentionally opt out of the public-private partnership in the county are not entitled to the services that are privately funded by others.

  27. This was classic government failure. These firefighters were government bureaucrats who had to do things by the book, and ignore both profits and morality. Private firefighters would have put out the fire in a jiffy for a tidy profit, given that most of their costs are fixed. A reasonable price, say $10k, would have been a great deal for Cranick too. A for-profit company would have a strong incentive to keep the cost reasonable, since reputation is critical for private companies not backed by government coercion.

    These firefighters did NOT operate on a private, for-profit basis. They acted EXACTLY like government employees. Union City Fire Chief: “Right, wrong or indifferent, it was not the decision of the South Fulton Fire Chief or of his firefighters to not put water on the structure. Their orders came from their city manager and mayor.”

    1. Filby, you are confused. The firefighters did indeed operate on a private basis, it just wasn’t for profit, because they are part of another jurisdiction’s municipal fire department.

      Obion County seems to have no provisions to allow post-fire billing of the type you advocate, which means your solution won’t work there.

      Obion County intentionally provides no fire protection, because that is the will of the majority of the local citizens. South Fulton would be within their rights to provide NO fire protection outside their jurisdiction. Instead, they create public-private partnerships (subscriptions) to serve individual clients outside the city.

      Those who intentionally opt out of the public-private partnership in the county are not entitled to the services that are privately funded by others.

  28. In the UK this could not happen. The Fire SERVICE is paid for out of local property taxes, partially subsidised by central government. No one is refused the assistance of our firemen and firewomen, nor of our ambulance service, whether they be long-term residents or simply visitors from the USA.

    As fire can be dangerous to people other than those in the first property to burn, we need to extinguish fires as a part of protecting the wider public. Some form of compulsory fee – i.e. taxation – is therefore necessary to maintain a safer state of affairs.

    I know that the USA has always been against taxation since before its existance (Boston Tea Party, anyone?) but sometimes tax is necessary to ensure that the wider society is safe.

    Why not allow people to decide whether they wish to be protected by the police, as that’s a similar topic? Would you then think it OK for a guy to be murdered in front of a police officer if he hadn’t kept his protection money – whoops, wrong choice of words; let’s call it police tax – up to date?

    1. Ambulance Amateur,

      Your hypotheticals are not pertinent in Tennessee, especially in Obion County.
      Tennessee state law requires that local government provide only two services – law enforcement and garbage pickup.

      The citizens of Obion County have voted over and over for elected officials that will not increase their taxes to support a fire department. That means that compulsory fees are not necessary in the local citizens’ view.

      How you do it in the UK is how you do it. That’s also how it’s done in many parts of the US. That simply is not how it’s done in Obion County, Tennessee. The South Fulton FD did exactly what the local citizens want – they didn’t provide fire protection to someone who intentionally opted out of a local system that puts the onus for funding it on a public-private partnership rather than a tax-based system that would increase local government costs.

  29. In the UK this could not happen. The Fire SERVICE is paid for out of local property taxes, partially subsidised by central government. No one is refused the assistance of our firemen and firewomen, nor of our ambulance service, whether they be long-term residents or simply visitors from the USA.

    As fire can be dangerous to people other than those in the first property to burn, we need to extinguish fires as a part of protecting the wider public. Some form of compulsory fee – i.e. taxation – is therefore necessary to maintain a safer state of affairs.

    I know that the USA has always been against taxation since before its existance (Boston Tea Party, anyone?) but sometimes tax is necessary to ensure that the wider society is safe.

    Why not allow people to decide whether they wish to be protected by the police, as that’s a similar topic? Would you then think it OK for a guy to be murdered in front of a police officer if he hadn’t kept his protection money – whoops, wrong choice of words; let’s call it police tax – up to date?

    1. Ambulance Amateur,

      Your hypotheticals are not pertinent in Tennessee, especially in Obion County.
      Tennessee state law requires that local government provide only two services – law enforcement and garbage pickup.

      The citizens of Obion County have voted over and over for elected officials that will not increase their taxes to support a fire department. That means that compulsory fees are not necessary in the local citizens’ view.

      How you do it in the UK is how you do it. That’s also how it’s done in many parts of the US. That simply is not how it’s done in Obion County, Tennessee. The South Fulton FD did exactly what the local citizens want – they didn’t provide fire protection to someone who intentionally opted out of a local system that puts the onus for funding it on a public-private partnership rather than a tax-based system that would increase local government costs.

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