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Tennessee Firefighters Watch Another House Burn:Pay to Spray?

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January 3, 2012
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Tennessee Firefighters Watch Another House Burn:Pay to Spray?

Well, it’s happened again: firemen in Tennessee have followed the letter of the law regarding annual fees for fire protection, and another house has burned to the ground. After this same thing happened a year earlier, one might expect that all the homeowners in the affected area might pay up – after all, it’s only $75 a year for peace of mind, to make sure the fire department will respond. This recent incident also occurred in Obion County, TN, the same location as the 2010 event.

A Tennessee couple helplessly watched their home burn to the ground, along with all of their possessions because they did not pay a $75 annual fee to the local fire department. Vicky Bell told the NBC affiliate WPSD-TV that she called 911 when her mobile home in Obion County caught fire. Firefighters arrived on the scene but as the fire raged, they simply stood by and did nothing.

Here’s a link to my post from the last time this happened – the stories are remarkably similar.

What We All Expect

"In an emergency, the first thing you think of, 'Call 9-1-1," homeowner Bell said. However, Bell and her husband were forced to walk into the burning home in an attempt to retrieve their own belongings. "You could look out my mom's trailer and see the trucks sitting at a distance," Bell said. "We just wished we could've gotten more out."

Local Mayor Stand by Policy

South Fulton Mayor David Crocker defended the fire department, saying that if firefighters responded to non-subscribers, no one would have an incentive to pay the fee. Residents in the city of South Fulton receive the service automatically, but it is not extended to those living in the greater county-wide area. "There's no way to go to every fire and keep up the manpower, the equipment, and just the funding for the fire department," Crocker said.

Reference to 2020 Incident

The South Fulton policy produced precisely the same nightmare scenario last year, when homeowner Gene Cranick--who had likewise failed to pay the $75 annual fee for rural Obion County residents--saw his house engulfed by flames as South Fulton firefighter watched close by. That incident sparked a debate among conservative pundits over the limits of fee-for-service approaches to government. For his part, Mayor Crocker stressed that the city's  firefighters will help people in danger, even those who haven't paid the fee. "After the last situation, I would hope that everybody would be well aware of the rural fire fees, this time," Crocker said.

Among those reacting to the previous “pay-to-spray” story, some of the most upset were other firefighting personnel:

"Truly, a firefighter cannot stand by and watch something burn," said Doug McClanahan, chief of the Blount County (TN) Fire Department. "He can't stand by and not try to react to a fire or rescue. They are trained to take care of people."

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