Gene Cranick lives in rural Obion County, Tennessee. But he never paid the $75 annual fee required of residents to get fire protection from the city of South Fulton. So when his house caught fire last week, he knew he was in deep shit.
He tried to put it out with a garden hose. When that didn’t work, he called 911, offering to pay the firemen for all their work.
The firefighters indeed showed up. But they didn’t lift a finger to stop the fire. Since Cranick hadn’t paid what essentially amounts to fire insurance on his home, the South Fulton chief ordered his men to not fight the flames. They only jumped in to assist when the burning double-wide trailer threatened to bring the fire to a neighboring home, which had paid the fee.
The blaze would end up totaling Cranick’s home and killing his dogs and cats.
“I hadn’t paid my $75 and that’s what they want, $75, and they don’t care how much it burned down,” Cranick told WPSD-TV. “I thought they’d come out and put it out, even if you hadn’t paid your $75, but I was wrong.”
Cranick says he’s paid the fee in years past, but this time it simply slipped his mind. His son Timothy was so pissed that he later went to the fire house and punched out the chief. Now his dad’s home isn’t just burned down; he’s also looking at assault charges.
So what do you think, dear reader? You can understand the chief’s economics position. A mere $75 a year is pretty cheap, since it won’t even cover a fire department’s response. It takes everyone paying to create a large enough pool to support the service. And the chief was no doubt pissed at deadbeats who assume they can avoid paying but still get protection.
On the other hand, it’s pretty cruel to simply watch a man’s home burn and do nothing to stop it. Is there a point when government — i.e. the local fire department — needs to step in to save the cheap and stupid and forgetful, even when they won’t help themselves or contribute to the aid of others?
UPDATE: A neighboring fire chief says the county’s to blame for not getting group fire protection.
Bob Reavis, chief of the Hornbeak Volunteer Fire Department, has come to the defense of the South Fulton department, saying Obion County government left it in an untenable situation.
It’s a classic case of limited government gone very bad. There are some things we all need, like police and fire protection, school and roads. But by allowing residents to pick and choose their own protection, the county left its fire departments badly underfunded, and forced firefighters to simply watch as a man’s house burned down.
Reavis operates his department on just $8,000 a year. Though he says 85 percent of the fires they respond to are in rural areas, those residents are the same people who allowed to choose if they want protection.
The county could easily add the $75 fee to property taxes, thus allowing it to buy group protection and better-funded fire departments. But it’s rejected that idea, instead allowing people to opt out for the last 20 years.
“The same thing could have happened anywhere,” Reavis told MSNBC. “…”The fault is the failure of Cranick family not to pay that subscription.”
See our last episode from the Great Moral Dilemmas of the Day file: Widow, 68, Opens Fire on Two Boys Throwing Bricks and Vandalizing Her Home.