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.