This story is sad and appalling. Gene Cranick lives in rural Tennessee, where there is no fire protection district, like many of us are accustomed to. His taxes do not go to support the closest fire department, but that department does have a program where rural residents can pay an annual fee of $75 to cover their home. An insurance policy, if you will. Well, Mr. Cranick hadn’t paid his fee, and when his home caught fire and he called 911, he was told by the operator that the South Fulton firefighters would not respond, because “he wasn’t on the list.”
The fire raged, spreading to a neighboring field, which was on the list. Firefighters responded to that fire, laying water on the fire right up to the property line. But still, they would not fight the fire engulfing Cranick’s house. Cranick said that he begged the firefighters at the scene to put out the fire, that he would pay any fee they wanted, and still they refused. When all was said and done, the house was burned to the ground, taking with it all of the Cranick’s belongings, three dogs and a cat.
This sounds like the reason that municipal Fire Protection Districts were introduced in the first place. I remember sitting in history class when I was in fourth or fifth grade, learning about people calling for firefighting help, only to be told that they had called the wrong company. They had to call the company next door because that’s who they had contracted with to fight their particular fire, and all of the “fire companies” at that time were privately run. It was soon after that fire departments became a public entity, paid for by tax dollars and charged with dousing any fire they were they were called to fight. Fire departments are even called across boundary lines to ‘cover’ when one department is otherwise occupied. They regularly respond to multi-alarm fires, fighting out of district, without checking the ledger to see who paid and who didn’t.
I was shocked when I read this story. I could not imagine standing there, side-by-side with firefighters who refused to fight the fire that was taking my house. It boggles the mind. And it was all over a $75 fee. Why wasn’t there a provision in place that said, “ok, if you didn’t pay your fee, we’ll come and fight your fire, but we will then bill you for $150”?
In reading the comments on this story, there is a twist that has been added, thanks to Keith Olbermann, who has decided to blame “Tea Partiers” for this policy – which has been in place for 20 years – saying that this is the kind of ‘pay-as-you-go, only-the-rich-get-the-services’ kind of government that Tea Partiers want. So now, on top of a tragic situation there’s this huge brouhaha over whether Republicans are to blame for this type of policy, and a ‘this is what you can expect if you’re sick and don’t have government healthcare’ attitude is permeating the comment boards.
Personally, I think the whole thing is shameful. The firefighters should have fought the fire, period. Sort out the paperwork later, hugely fine the guy for being out of district and not paying the fee, and let it serve as a lesson to others in the area to see that their own fees are up to date. And for once, leave the politics out of it.