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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Watch It Burn

It's a sad story when ever someone loses their home, no matter what the cause. But this story has caused some heated emotions. Understandably so.

But, sad as it is, the situation was brought on because of several factors. The South Fulton City Fire Department is a pay for service fire department for citizens in the local rural area outside of their jurisdiction. They charge an annual fee of $75 for the contract. If someone lives in the area and doesn't pay for the services, they don't get them.

I know that a lot of smaller departments will charge for services rendered to people that don't live and pay taxes in the area. Such as when someone passing through on the highway has an accident. It's a way for them to recoup the costs of helping someone out that hasn't paid for services.

I'm glad that the local citizens reportedly aren't upset at the firefighters. I know that firefighters want to fight fires. Period. We don't care where, when, whose it is, who paid....we just want to fight fire. The issue is with those in power above us.

So the question is was the city of South Fulton justified in refusing service. I think that they were. Let me explain why I believe this way.

To start with, it is a service offered for a fee. If you don't pay the fee, you don't get the service. So why not let Gene Cranick pay the fee now that he has a need for the fire department. In order to answer this question you have to be able to look at the situation from a large scale perspective. The fire department uses the money generated from these fees to help pay for training, upkeep and equipment.

So why not let Mr. Cranick pay the $75 fee as his house is burning down? If the department allowed that then the only people that would pay money into the system would be those actually having the fires. This would dramatically increase the service fee. Also, according to the Onion County statistics, there are several departments that do just this. That is bill for services rendered. They are only paid 50% of the time.

I think that the bigger issue here is that the people of Obion County have decided that they are happy with this type of fire protection. Sure, there are some that don't but they are in the minority. In 2008 the county did a feasibility study seeing if they could form a county wide department instead of having 8 separate departments covering most of the county. Here's a list of those departments:

• Hornbeak Fire Department
• Kenton Fire Department
• Obion Fire Department
• Rives Fire Department
• Samburg Fire Department
• South Fulton Fire Department
• Troy Fire Department
• Union City Fire Department

Of the 8 departments only Union City Fire has career firefighters, 42 of them. The rest of the county is covered by 144 volunteers.

The study showed that with a 0.13 cent property tax the county would be able to provide fire department coverage to the entire county and improve response times. For reason that I was not able to find, this consolidation did not occur. That means the elected officials of the individual communities must have turned it down. So the issue goes back on the voters. They chose their elected officials. Maybe it's time for a change.

Furthermore, Gene Cranick chose to live in an area with sparse fire protection. That is a risk you assume when deciding to live in a rural area. It's like living in California and deciding not to get earthquake insurance on your house. Sure, you may not need it. But if you do and you don't have it you're screwed.

Basically I feel that this is a problem that the people of those communities have allowed to happen. They need to elect people that will make the changes that are needed for better coverage. Maybe they need to be willing to pay a little more in taxes as well.

A little side note. In the news story the homeowner said that the fire started in a pair of 55 gallon drums and then moved to a shed before getting to the house two hours later. I know I'm not getting the full story here. Was someone there when it started? A garden hose should be plenty to stop a fire like this in the early stages. Something doesn't seem right to me with the way the story has been told.

As for the firefighters. I understand why they followed orders and didn't attack that fire. But, as I understand it, those firefighters are all vollies. I would have stepped away from the IC and said that as long as I'm not needed by the department I'm going to go help my neighbor. I may not have had an engine and hose but I would have done what I could. At least I'd like to think that's what I'd do. It's tough to say since I wasn't there in the situation. It's always easy to armchair quarterback things like this.


Firemomma35 said...

I agree with you that Mr. Cranick shouldn't be allowed to pay the $75 at the last minute to get fire protection if all his neighbors payed up front. What I think should have happened was that the fire department fight the fire for a larger fee. Either a set $500 fee for example or an even larger itemized bill for services rendered. Kind of like what would happen at the doctors office without insurance. The up front $75 fee counts as insurance and if you don't opt for that you can pay the full price for service.
It is hard to watch someones home burn and not give them any option for rectifying their previous decision.
I also agree that it would be hard as a neighbor to stand by and do nothing if I were the one not responding to the fire.
Tough situation all around. I just feel bad for all those involved.

Firefighter/Paramedic said...

The City of South Fulton has yanked its website so the hotlink to their fire departments web page isn't working.

Divemedic said...

To firemomma:
The problem with this is that 50% of them do not pay when they are billed. If you work for a fire department that does EMS, you know that the same is true for EMS runs.

Divemedic said...

Check this out:

Many say that South Fulton is wrong for what they did. Is Broward County SO wrong for this one?

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