Tennessee family home burns while firefighters watch

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. “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.”

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.

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.

This is outrageous and cruel. There is a much easier and fairer solution – put out the fire and then assess the full cost on homeowners who didn’t pay the annual fee.

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53 Responses to WTF?

  1. DeniseVB says:

    We have an all volunteer rescue squad and you betcha I donate $50 bucks a year to their fundraiser just to make sure if I place a 9-1-1 call a happy face shows up next to my address.

    Our FD is a city service but they still respond to those behind on their city taxes. This story is just so unethical 😦

  2. elliesmom says:

    When I lived just outside Chicago, the same system was in place. If you didn’t pay the yearly service fee and your house caught on fire, the fire department would come, rescue any people who might be in danger, and then make sure that as your house burned down, it didn’t take anyone else’s house with it. We couldn’t get homeowner’s insurance unless we attached a receipt from the county for the fee. I’ve lived in several parts of the country, and everywhere else fire department services were always included in our property taxes, but in an effort to reduce property tax costs out there, they decided to adopt a fee for service plan. While I think there should be a waiver available for people who can’t afford the fee, when you choose to gamble with your home over $75, then the risk is all yours. I think that the places that choose to cover the expense of having a fire department this way are “penny-wise and pound foolish”, but if they go this way, then everyone needs to pay their share.

  3. myiq2xu says:

    Comment registration is open at Hot Air until 4 pm eastern.

  4. Glenn McGahee says:

    Did 1 dollar of tax money go into any piece of their equipment? You bet it did.

    • elliesmom says:

      My guess is that it did not. People living on county land would not have paid taxes to the city or town providing the fire service. This isn’t a surcharge on top of paying taxes. This fee is instead of paying taxes to support a fire department. This is the equivalent of not paying for auto insurance, getting into an accident, and expecting someone else to pay to have your car fixed.

  5. yttik says:

    This situation sounds horrible on the surface, but it’s actually a pretty complex issue. The county has no fire dept. The people and the Dem mayor, Benny McGuire, have voted not to raise taxes, not to fund a fire dept. Don’t ask me why, but for some reason they have a county library, schools, a court system, but a fire dept has not been viewed as a priority. With no fire dept, the only option is to borrow one from the city. The problem is, the city can’t afford to pay to cover all the county residents. The county residents and the county gov will not agree to a tax increase. They have chosen not to fund a fire dept of their own and not to fund access to the city’s fire dept.

    It may not be the best solution, but when your gov will not provide a fire dept, you can go without services or you can subscribe to them privately.

    Where I live, none of our local fire depts came into existence because of county government. They were all created because somebody wealthy came here, built a fancy house, and became concerned that they had no fire services, so they gave money and worked together with the community to create them.

    • elliesmom says:

      The idea of living in “unincorporated land” was new to me when I moved to Illinois. In all of the other places that I had lived, the boundaries of one town always touched another. But in “unincorporated Cook County” we got our school services from one town, the library from another, the fire department from another, and the only police services we got were the county sheriff. A friendly neighbor helped us sort it all out, but we had to pay library services fees and school bus fees in addition to the fire department fees exclusive of our property taxes if we wanted to make use of them. There was movement for the area where we lived to incorporate into a town as we were leaving. I never looked back to see if it ever happened. Chicago was never my cup of tea.

      • myiq2xu says:

        Here in California the difference between “incorporated” and “unincorporated” is which police/fire/rescue services (city or county) respond when you call 911.

        We have county libraries.

        • elliesmom says:

          In my neck of the woods, every town has its own fire and police departments, and their own libraries.Towns contract with each other for reciprocal services – like sending your fire trucks to large fires in other towns or covering for them while they’re out putting out a fire. My library card is good at all the neighboring town’s libraries. But when the people in my town wanted to cut back the hours at our library dramatically, the other towns said they would not honor our cards because essentially we were going to be sending our citizens to use theirs instead of having a functional library of our own. So we sucked it up and paid to keep the library open.

          The bottom line is that every few months a story like this hits the news, and every liberal site goes nutz over how cruel this is. It isn’t. You get the bill, you put the check in the envelope, and the fire department comes when you need them to. Because if they come and put out the fire whether you pay or not, most people wouldn’t pay the bill, and there would be no fire department to come at all. The people in these communities made the choice to pay for the service this way. So they need to pay the bill. And stop whining if they don’t.

  6. 1539days says:

    Here’s the deal. Obion County does not have a fire department of any kind. South Fulton has one and they are paid for with that community’s taxes. They also will serve Obion County, but the extra expense needs to be covered. Instead of Obion County using property tax money to pay South Fulton for all its residents, they decided that each homeowner would be responsible for the fee. And every year, somebody doesn’t pay it and their house burns down.

    This is not an issue of a cruel fire department or dumb homeowners. This is a matter of a town government figuring out they can keep more tax money for themselves and offer less services. And if you think charging some massive fee for a homeowner who doesn’t pay the fee and (apparently) does not have insurance, you’ll instead see stories about extortionist fire departments shaking down homeonwers.

    • myiq2xu says:

      In civilized countries, fire departments are “basic services” that government provides.

      • yttik says:

        In reality though, government doesn’t really provide anything, the community does. Gov is supposed to administer it.

        When you have government mishandling funds and violating public trust, people become reluctant to give them any more money. Where I live we love our library and our fire dept, but the voters voted against both levies.

      • 1539days says:

        But which government? It’s not “The Fire Department” but a fire department from another country. Legally, they could not show up at all and anyone trapped in the house would die. Instead they will save lives as a humanitarian gesture, but they will not put their county in debt because Obion is stiffing them.

    • DeniseVB says:

      The fee only comes to 6.25/mo. A pack of smokes, a six-pack ? A small price to pay for peace of mind.

    • Lulu says:

      Do counties have the responsibility of fire departments in Tennessee? Or is it only incorporated cities? If it is only cities, those cities have no responsibility for anything outside of their taxing jurisdiction. If the county levees taxes for fire coverage and then does not provide it there is a problem, if they do not tax for fire protection but rather broker some type of arrangement with a city to provide coverage for a fee then it becomes very muddy because the county is acting on behalf of the property owner. Where I live the city will not put out a fire or send an ambulance outside of the city limits because of these very issues. They did for a number of years and were never compensated and even sued a few times for their efforts.

  7. ncguy says:

    Libertarianism at work people.

    • 1539days says:

      Nope. This is not a fire department for hire. It is a fire department from one county to which a second county does not contribute. They will drive to the other county, for free, and save anyone they can in the structure, also for free. They will also prevent a fire from spreading to homeowners who pay the fee. What they will not do is fight the fire for the sole purpose of protecting property, which is frequently destroyed by water damage anyway.

      In reality, you would prefer greed. You want to reward Obion County for not paying for a public service and reward a homeowner who does not pay the fee that many other residents pay by letting everyone keep as much of their stuff as possible.

    • yttik says:

      That’s exactly what I mean about this being a political story. No, it’s not libertarianism, no, it’s not conservatism. If you want to get really picky, the county mayor is a Democrat, the Rep for one of the districts not being served is a Dem. Just the same, this is not a Democrat problem, it’s a community issue. Just like the two people who refused to pay their fee and their houses burned down, the entire county has refused to fund a fire dept. A fire tax will be on the ballot in 2012. The people who live there will have a chance to decide whether or not they wish to fund public fire services.

  8. yttik says:

    I think this debate is kind of political because the national news media is like, blaming the fire dept, blaming the city. I believe the Obion county officials kind of like it that way. Obion county actually collects taxes, they just don’t spend any of them on fire services. They also have a fire dept on paper, it’s just that they’ve never funded it, so it doesn’t really exist.

    So rather then people demanding to know why Obion county has not funded any fire services, or demanding to know what they are doing with the tax money they collect, people are being directed to focus all their outrage on the “greedy city” or the “heartless fire dept”. The people who were elected, the people in charge of the resources, they get a free pass while everybody blames the neighboring gov for not providing the service and filling the gap the county officials caused.

  9. votermom says:

    Didn’t I read almost the exact story last year?

    Does the house have insurance? I am guessing not because what insurance company lets a house not be covered by a fire dept.

    • Lulu says:

      There are insurance policies for homes, barns, etc not in a fire jurisdiction and they are very expensive for that very reason. This is one of the reasons that volunteer fire depts are formed because they bring down the premium somewhat.

  10. DandyTiger says:

    It’s be a shame if something happened to your house. Now if you just pay Jimmy some spending money every month, we’ll be sure nothing happens to your lovely house. Know what I mean? Not convinced? Jimmy, tell the lovely couple how it is.

  11. timothy2010 says:

    What if someone simply cannot pay. I lost my job a few years ago and was desperate so I took the first job I could find. Starbucks. Took me about 5 months to land a decent job but during that time I would cash my check Put 3/4 away for rent and cell phone buy a metro card and spent what little was left .on food and basic necessities. No way could I have shelled out 75 in any of those months. Only time I ever stole from my employer. At the end of the night all of the pound cakes and other pastries were bagged up and given to Covenant House(teen run away place in Manhattan) Sometimes I’d snag a few. So yep not only did I steal from boss but also from the homeless youth. Bad person I am, but damn those cranberry walnut loafs are amazing when all you have eaten in days is hard salami on white bread with 99 cent store yellow mustard breakfast lunch and dinner. used credit cards to pay credit cards. Too stupid or proud or both to have had unemployment or other assistance as an option. Just didn’t cross my mind. 75 bucks paid flat out would have been essentially an impossibility for me at that time had I not had decent credit and I am inclined to believe that the majority of the working poor do not enjoy that luxury.

    • 1539days says:

      If someone does not pay, their stuff is in danger of burning up in a fire. The fire department will rescue anyone in a building, regardless of pay.

      People seem to think the alternative to this system is a fire department that does not charge people to put out fires. The alternative is a fire department who will not put out fires under any circumstances.

      • timothy2010 says:

        I get that but do these types of communities generally allow for some sort of payment plan or exemptions for the truly indigent. i guess if you own a trailer you cannot be classified in that manner, but there are people who simply do not have 75 dollars left over at the end of any given month. they give away free frigging cell phones to people in PA with little proof required of need so why not a waiver for something as essential as this. Odds are anyone living in that type of poverty is already getting a fat EIC tax return so no excuse for not making the payment with that. I think I am just going to chase my tail for a few minutes in a corner.

        • 1539days says:

          I have no idea how high the compliance rate is for the Fire Dept fee, but it is one of the essential functions of government to provide services. Obion county should be giving tax money to South Fulton and levy whatever taxes necessary.

      • myiq2xu says:

        If someone is delinquent on their property taxes you don’t refuse to send the fire department if their house catches on fire.

        You get a lien on their property for non-payment of taxes and if necessary you foreclose. They might lose their property but the property is not destroyed.

        • 1539days says:

          South Fulton doesn’t want people’s trailers. They want to defray the cost of their services. Your ire should be directed at Obion County, They are the ones who have the power to place a lien on a house in their county. South Fulton is the fire department, and this person isn’t under their jurisdiction.

          Okay. Let’s say An Obion resident didn’t pay their fee and the place catches fire. The fire department shows up, get anyone trapped out and finds out no fee has been paid. But the homeowner says they can pay the $75 now, or anything they need to.

          South Fulton opens up the hoses and puts the fire out. They determine that the travel time, insurance, labor, overhead and all will cost $5,000. They put a lien on the house because the homeowner doesn’t have that kind of cash.

          But it gets worse. The water damage destroys most of the valuable stuff. TVs, computers and appliances are all shot to hell. Books and photo albums are somewhat okay. They can fill a moving truck with what’s left. Then a home inspector comes and says the house needs to be razed or repaired for more than the cost of a new house. There’s no insurance because no fire fee voids the policy.

          Now NBC changes their headline to “Family home destroyed. Fire Department Slaps them with $5,000 bill.” The family loses the house and the land and hopes the county auction will cover the debt. Then all the Obot sites call them extortionists. But at least a fire got put out.

  12. timothy2010 says:

    Wonder what the final cost is going to be to the taxpayer/county? To prove a point they let someone’s home burn to the ground. i assume these people were not wealthy so now they are homeless and probably lacking essentials. So they will be housed in some manner and provided with a basic level of support which I think will far exceed 75 dollars. Ass backwards.(Still missing WMCB as she prompted to use my first expletive online)

  13. timothy2010 says:

    Another thing I don’t get is that while the fire was ablaze they were permitted to re-enter and collect things? No way that took place. Liability issue is too huge. Has one of them died while grabbing a photo album and the fire department was sitting idly by. Luckily I have only been trapped in a burning building once in my life but i can tell you it is not pleasant. it’s the smoke not the actual fire. No way they permitted these people to re-enter and stood by doing zip. Also how did they know they hadn’t paid? Does dispatch so a check. 911 call comes in and there is a response. Are you telling me someone evaluates the response as per payment? Wrong if so. neighbor who paid 75 dollars will be dealing with the fall out of an um-extinguished blaze. 75 dollars? When my apartment was destroyed by fire in Manhattan I lost everything I owned due to smoke, flames never reached my apartment. Awful odor.

  14. timothy2010 says:

    sorry bout typos
    i have to surrender. Fought like hell but i am 44 and need glasses

    • votermom says:

      Glasses can be really snazzy accessories.

      • timothy2010 says:

        One of six and the only one to never need corrective lenses. Both parents require. Silly sibling rivalry more than vanity as I love antique James Joyce thin metal framed kind of glasses. Think they call them school boy glasses. I cry uncle though. Cannot read instructions on a can of soup.

  15. timothy2010 says:

    This story makes zero sense to me. In order for the responders to have known that fee was not paid they had to have been told. They arrived and were on sight and in addition to that they let the home owners enter a burning building. No way. no how. Liability for that is huge,
    To a jury. Malice yes. Neglect hell yes. Intent yes again.
    Over 75 dollars. My tiny brain does not compute. Fire company has risk assessment and standing by and watching a building burn while allowing professionals to sit on the sidelines as individuals enter a burning building would never happen.

    • DeniseVB says:

      Tim….I buy readers for about $15 at the drug store or kmart for even less. There’s a handy little eye chart to test strengths, or just start out with the 1.25. Magical !

      • timothy2010 says:

        Something i have to accept.kidded myself for a while as i used the biggest font on Kobe reader, but no denying when you cannot read the instructions on a soup can. makes me kind of sad anyhow.44 and not a line on my face(that I can see) and still thinking I’m waiting to grow up. Not ready for this.

    • 1539days says:

      I suspect it is over millions of dollars, not $75. People, like the homeowner, do not pay the fee because they think the house won’t get in a fire. That’s what he’s said already. So, let the fire department put out everyone’s fire at no charge and watch the number of voluntary fees paid go down to zero.

      Again, let’s say the state says tough nuts. Any city with a nearby fire department has to put out the fire, no matter what. Now, the department is underfunded and overworked. No money in the budget for a new truck. One less firefighter to be carried under insurance. Response times go up. People who pay taxes in South Fulton lose more of their possessions because the department is financially strapped. But no one notices because they eventually show up. No more watching the houses burn because there’s hardly enough firefighters left. Spread the misery.

  16. timothy2010 says:

    How is that? For decades charity hospitals survived. Where I live there are zero. nada zip. Now it is a virtual monopoly through the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center(UPMC) they pay dick in taxes because they are non-profit advertising budget to convince people they are not evil and corrupt is more than the salary of 20 doctors. larget empolyer in the county and did I mention they pay not taxes. Bank a shit load of cash because those who receive medicare/medicaid have to opt for a provider when they enroll are screwed if they don’t go UPMC as they are the only dame in town. Opt for the other and it’ll be a nightmare if you need non-emergency services as by its largesse UPMC has virtually complete control over gov’t subsidized health care. They ran the charity hospitals into the ground and then bought them. Ten years ago someone could go to a local hospital in Pittsburgh and get treatment. still billed but it was worked out . Retro active medicare for some and for others a payment plan or absorption by the facility. Those hospitals help keep costs down but as UPMC grew and required participation in its own netwotk for care those on assisted health care has no choice but to subscribe. Charity hospitals folded as they did need the reimbursements Other hospital system in the area has been trying to sue as UPMC does have a monopoly but thus far no luck

  17. timothy2010 says:

    Another thing hospitals are twisted scary when it comes to care. Laugh away but I am the one man who sustained head trauma because of a Segway . They say no one can fall off well I proved them wrong. Minor accident my teeth went through my front lip no different than any kid flipping over handle bars on a bike. Bill was outrageous. Covered by my employer as i was working at the time but just obscene. think it was around four grand. How insane is that for a busted lip? Should be noted at the time I was a teamster. yep took a minimum wage job riding on a Segway as a “foot” messenger because I needed to get out of the house. Had to join the union to have the job. Fun job in good weather. But if i remember correctly i had union dues subtracted from my paycheck which equaled my federal tax withholding. My accident took place while i was working so companies insurance took care of it but i was paying the equivalent of one days work per month to the union. Scam alert when off in my head when I called it in to my boss thinking heh I fell and he sent a driver to pick me up to take me to a hospital a half hour away. There was one six blocks from where i fell. Then they wanted to give me a Cat Scan. I was like i hit my mouth not my noggin. Doctor said well we can’t be sure. i agreed but only after a promise of a copy. Who doesn’t want to see a picture of their own brain Anyhow my point is that I needed a tetanus shot and a good cleaning of a wound. No stitches as they used some super freaky band aid, may not have even needed the tetanus shot but couldn’t remember my last. Thousands of dollars for that. Stupid

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