Gotta Pay to Play

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.

This entry was posted in accidents, America, blame, emergency, government, life lessons, outrage, politics, responsibility, taxes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Gotta Pay to Play

  1. Joy says:

    This is very hard to comprehend. I guess what did it for me was the man said he “forgot” to pay this fee. It’s not like he said he didn’t have the money or thought he shouldn’t have to pay or thought it was a dumb fee.

    I know a lot of people who’d “forget” to pay this kind of fee. They do have to have some kind of system but to let someone’s house and all his belongings and have his animals die??? I think that’s a disgrace to mankind. How can one man treat another like that?

    Put the fire out and double the fee. Triple the fee but this is just one of the things we learned in kindergarten. Be nice to other people and treat them the way you’d want to be treated.

  2. Sue says:

    When I read this story online the other day, I about fell over. Watch a man’s home burn to the ground over $75??? There is nothing right about that policy whatsoever!!!! That would be like us healthcare workers watching someone have a heart attack and not helping because they don’t have insurance or they didn’t pay the premuims. Who stands by and lets that happen??? I think the firefighters and the policy makers should be ashamed of themselves for not helping someone in the time of need. Karma’s going to come back and bite ’em all hard!

  3. Jenny says:

    That’s horrible! Yea why couldn’t they have settled the fee after they put the fire out. That seems unhuman to just sit there and watch someone’s house burn down along with their pets. How did the firefighters not feel bad for that man? That’s just wrong, I’m speechless….

  4. SKL says:

    Hmm. I feel badly that the guy lost all his stuff and especially his animals. I think it’s horrible that the guys were right next door and did nothing to help. BUT, whether the fire department should come for a fire out in the boonies depends on the facts. I guess my biggest question would be, how far would the fire engine have to go to get to this guy’s house? In this case they were right next door, but what if they weren’t? Would the engine be taken far away and be unable to respond to another fire? If they use fees to pay their expenses, maybe they only have one or two fire trucks.

    I do think that where there is a fire truck, they ought to come up with some way to take care of all the people within a reasonable area. Should all local governments be required to tax and pay for fire safety services? No, I don’t think so. I think people should have a right to make this decision in a democratic manner, and that includes deciding democratically that they would rather let their buildings burn to the ground than pool together. But once they do have a service, it just seems crazy not to use it just because someone didn’t pay a small advance fee. They should have an option to decide at the last minute that you’ll pay a lot more for the service, if you have previously opted out. Kinda like having high-deductible health insurance, or having no dental insurance. You still get treated if something goes wrong, but you have to shell out a chunk of cash.

  5. LVISS says:

    Really sad to read this, I guess this is not the position now.
    We do not have this problem .

  6. starlaschat says:

    Very sad story. It’s difficult to imagine that the firefighters could or would just stand around and watch a person house go up in flames. I wonder if it is at all possiable that the house was burning to a point that it was not safe to go in and fight the fire? Just wondering and the story came out as a statement about money and not safety. I guess it’s just hard to comprehend that people trained in this way to fight fires would just stand around and watch a persons house burn down.

    • SKL says:

      I was thinking the same thing about the house maybe being too far gone to save, and too unsafe to enter. Of course I wasn’t there, but if the fire had gotten bad enough that it had spread like that, it may well have already been too late. That happens sometimes even in a city where an “unpaid fee” is not the issue. A firefighter won’t go in and risk his life if it’s too dangerous, especially if there isn’t a person trapped inside. And you hear later how outraged people were that they “just stood by and watched.” It’s tragic, but at some point trained firefighters have to decide whether an attempt to rescue would be even more tragic.

      • Sue says:

        In the story I read, nothing was mentioned about the house being a goner and unsafe for the firefighters. It all had to do about the fee being unpaid so the firefighters were told not to do anything. EXCEPT, keep the neighbors home safe because they did pay the fee.

    • Laura says:

      At the beginning, the house was not too far gone to save. Crannick called for help, and was told by the operator on the phone that the fire department would not be coming because he hadn’t paid the fee. It was only after they were called for the neighbor’s cornfield that they came near his house. At that point, he begged them to fight the fire, offering whatever pay they wanted, and still they refused, apparently, because he hadn’t paid in the first place. The chief said something to the effect of, ‘how do we know he’ll pay later?’ Which, frankly, I think is pretty shabby.

  7. Nikki says:

    This story broke my heart! What kind of person could stand there and let a house go up in flames over $75?! A heartless one if you ask me. I don’t care that the man didn’t pay the fee, for whatever reason he may have. Put the damn fire out, and ask questions later. Charge him a much larger fee afterwards, but my god, put some water on the that poor families house.

    This saddens me beyond belief, that people can be so unkind, uncaring, and so judgmental. Just because he didn’t pay the fee, that doesn’t make him a bad father, or person. Irresponsible at the least, but letting his home burn down is down right heartless. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love his family, or care about their lives and home.

    There is nothing about this story that I agree with!

    • mssc54 says:

      Nikki, didn’t you say you were going to be seeing a fire chief friend of yours and was going to ask him about this? What did was his input?

      • Nikki says:

        You know, the last few times I have seen him, baseball is thee only thing on our mind. I will try to remember to talk to him about it the next time I see him. I’m anxious to see what he has to say, he may agree with you, but it is highly doubtful.

  8. mssc54 says:

    I have not (completely) read all the comments but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that I am “odd man out.”

    In the very least this story boils down to personal responsibility. In the very worst it demonstrates one person taking a gamble and ultimately losing.

    I read the printed article and also watched the video.

    In the video the man who lost his house was asked if he was aware of any cases where the fire department put out the fire of a home that had NOT PAID. He responded that yes, just last year, at his son’s house. Well now, don’t you find that just a bit interesting? Can you imagine the conversation this father and son had after that near tragic event? I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this father actually made a concious decision to NOT PAY based on what transpired with his son. Some may think it was a stupid gamble but looking at it from the father’s point of view it seems like a pretty decent way to save a few bucks. I mean IF he does need the fire department they will surely put out the fire at his house just as they did at his son’s. Right?

    I probably understand the trauma that families go through better than most people. I actually do fire and smoke restoration and have on numerous occassions been the one who has had to haul out all of the smoky and chared belongings. It is heartbreaking to see little children with such a loss look on their faces and crying about their stuff that they will never get back.

    As for letting the guy pay the $75 AFTER the fire; NO WAY!! How is that fair to all those who played by the rules? Try driving without automobile insurance, getting into an accident and then calling an insurance company asking for coverage of your loss. Not going to happen.

    However, there is one option that I have not seen brought up. If you don’t pay the $75 and you DO NEED the fire department to come out and extinguish a fire then figure out what the total cost of the response is and charge the slacker that amount. How much for each of the fire fighers? How much for the equipment? What percentage of administrative charges (record keeping, housing for personnel, insurance on vehicles, etc.). Just figure out how much each call actually cost and charge the slacker that fee.

    Perhaps if in future cases when this happens if the fire department responds, extinguishes the fire and then bills the home owner for the amount it actually costs to respond more people would pay up.

    I feel bad about the pets. They didn’t deserve what they got but once again if this guy would have taken care of them before things got out of control….

    I’m sorry but I am a bit worn out with those who expect us to follow the rules while they try to sneek in and enjoy the fruits of our labors. He got what he didn’t pay for and ultimately it is completely his responsibility.

    • Joy says:

      I really do see your point of view and I agree with you on most of the aspects. I guess with me, I feel “they were there” and that seems so much different than just not responding. It’d be like if I were a medic and saw an accident and didn’t help. It just seems so inhumane to just watch that happen but you are right about people paying their share year after year and people like this “forget” to pay.

      I like the insurance analogy you used. “What if” you didn’t have fire insurance or flood or tornado and you tried to claim it and you told them you “forgot” to renew, you wouldn’t get very far.

      I see more than one side here now.

      • Sue says:

        I see the point also, but the fire dept was still out there. They responded to the call. If the man was in the house would they have left him there to die because he didn’t pay his fee?? How would the rule followers have felt then?

        • SKL says:

          I would like to think that if he hollered “my daughter is trapped in there” the outcome would have been different. We can’t know one way or the other.

    • Laura says:

      I agree with the premise, MSSC, that it’s like an insurance policy that has been allowed to lapse. However, your insurance company doesn’t show up and watch you crash your car and then refuse to help you. They provide numerous opportunities for you to pay – through late notices, etc., as well as a ‘pay a month ahead’ escrow-type payment… when you sign up for insurance (at least when I did) you pay two months in advance – one month that goes into an escrow account, and the other is for the first month. That way, if you do lapse a day or two, you’re still covered.

      I mentioned in the article that they should have a clause written into the law that states that the department will respond to a fire (within a reasonable mileage, perhaps up to wherever the next town can reasonably cover), but if you haven’t paid your fee up front, the department is well within their rights to charge you double. I said “double” in the article, but have, in spoken conversations, proposed a solution like yours: figure up the cost of the man-hours, equipment use, fuel for vehicles, etc., and charge that amount. I don’t have a problem at all with the department recouping their ‘losses’.

      What I have a problem with is emergency workers – people who are sworn to protect and serve – standing around watching a family’s life go up in smoke when they could stop it. That’s where the “insurance” analogy ends. Like I said, the insurance company doesn’t show up and then do nothing.

      • Sue says:

        Your last paragraph, Laura, you nailed it.

          • mssc54 says:

            Okay then, if they (the city firefighter EMPLOYEES) go against written policy and are receive a life altering injury or are killed…

            Who would be responsible for THEIR family?

            • Laura says:

              That’s why I said that I had a problem with the written policy. In this case, there should not have been any injuries if the firefighters HAD fought the fire, because there was nobody inside (except pets) to save. They would have been outside the fire, fighting it from there.

              I don’t know what the city’s policy is regarding being hurt while fighting a fire that is against policy, so I can’t comment on that. But I can tell you, based on experience with small-town folk, that if a firefighter had been hurt or killed while trying to save someone’s house – regardless of the stupid written policy – his family would be taken care of, and he’d be regarded/remembered as a hero. ESPECIALLY if the policy was stupid, and he was doing that which was morally correct.

              • mssc54 says:

                Maybe our town is to big but it has been my experiene that (initially) “when the iron is hot” everyone wants to be a part of doing something. However, as time goes by they become less and less willing to make the necessary sacrifices, take the time, etc. that it takes to maintain something for a family. How will go and patch the roof when it begins leaking? Who is going to pay the fees for the children to play youth sports? Who is going to cough the money for higher education? Who is going to buy them some fishing gear, ballet outfits, etc.

                Everyone wants to be a part of doing something good in the beginning but most people eventually will say something like, “Well I was behind the widow at the grocery store and she was buying $50 worth of steaks! I wish I could buy $50 worth of steaks.”

                People have short memories.

  9. Laura says:

    A note about rescuing the pets:

    Its a sad and heartbreaking practice, but in talking with Big Brother #2, who spent a long time as a volunteer firefighter, and also some time as a firefighting trainer, there is a blanket policy that they do not go in after pets. As sad as it is, an animal life is not worth risking a human’s life. I understand it. I don’t like it, being a pet owner, but I understand it.

    • mssc54 says:

      The time for him to take care of his pets was when he made the first call and was told they would not respond. “MARTHA! WE GOTTA GET PINKY, SNUFFY AND TABBY OUT!”

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