Dude You HAVE No Fire Protection


I think there has been some misinformation out there about this story. To my knowledge, the South Fulton, TN fire department is not privatized. However, this is a very rural area, and if they are going to provide fire protection service beyond the South Fulton community out into Obion County then they charge an additional service fee. To the best of my understanding, that is how the arrangement works. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

People from metropolitan areas need to understand that rural areas do not — can not — maintain services out into the hinterlands. There simply is not the tax base for it. When I lived in rural Kentucky we did not have trash service, for example. You either contracted with a private company or dealt with your household waste yourself. Some people were responsible and hauled stuff to the county dump once a month. Some burned it in backyard fire pits. Some people are assholes and dump their trash by the side of the road.

Similarly, people who live in Obion County are given the option of contracting with the (public) South Fulton fire department for their fire protection or dealing with fire protection themselves.

When you live out in the sticks that’s just how it is.

Okay, I don’t mean to be flippant, but some people need to get a freaking clue:

A local neighborhood is furious after firefighters watched as an Obion County, Tennessee, home burned to the ground.

The homeowner, Gene Cranick, said he offered to pay whatever it would take for firefighters to put out the flames, but was told it was too late.  They wouldn’t do anything to stop his house from burning.

Each year, Obion County residents must pay $75 if they want fire protection from the city of South Fulton.  But the Cranicks did not pay.

The mayor said if homeowners don’t pay, they’re out of luck.

This fire went on for hours because garden hoses just wouldn’t put it out. It wasn’t until that fire spread to a neighbor’s property, that anyone would respond.

Turns out, the neighbor had paid the fee.

“I thought they’d come out and put it out, even if you hadn’t paid your $75, but I was wrong,” said Gene Cranick.

Yes, that was the point of the fee.

Because guess what: things like fire departments don’t grow on trees. You don’t just add water and *poof* fire trucks and trained firefighters and gear just magically appear. These things need to be paid for and maintained in advance. So they are there when you need them. If everyone waited for their homes to catch fire and then paid the fee, that would seriously muck up the system, wouldn’t it?

Now, I don’t for a minute think the fire department did the right thing here. Once Mr. Cranick said he’d “pay anything” they should have charged him double and some kind of extra service fee, got the cash upfront and then put out his house fire. Hopefully this would deter him and others like him from not having coverage.

Alternately, they could make having fire protection mandatory, like they’re doing with our health insurance coverage. Because if you make it optional and then people don’t have it when they need it and want it, they tend to whine a lot. People don’t like being forced to buy things, but Mr. Cranick might still have a house had he done so.

And then there’s this:

To give you an idea of just how intense the feelings got in this situation, soon after the fire department returned to the station, the Obion County Sheriff’s Department said someone went there and assaulted one of the firefighters.

Well that’s lovely.

Look, people. Services don’t rain down out of the sky. There isn’t some great “fire protection” farm out there, just like there isn’t a “police protection tree” off in the hills. If you need the fire department or the police department, you have to pay for it. Here in Davidson County our property taxes pay for fire protection; rural areas operate a little differently but it’s the same principle.

As it happens, I know South Fulton fairly well. I used to live not too terribly far from there by rural Kentucky standards. It’s smack dab on the Tennessee-Kentucky state line, real boondocks country. We’re talking east of East Jesus. Other than some tiny little farm towns, there’s literally nothing but corn and soybean fields around there. There isn’t even a dang interstate for miles. You’re stuck in a vast expanse of farmland, and no fast way out.

This can have its charms, if you like this sort of thing; I’m not knocking it, I’m just saying, city services as we know them here in Nashville do not exist. I’m trying to be fair to Mr. Cranick; I can see how someone who lives out in the boonies like this might think fire protection is optional and perhaps not even very effective: by the time a fire truck arrives, your house might be completely gone anyway. But $75 doesn’t seem like too terribly much to pay just in case. And remember: your $75 pays to maintain a system that someone else will use.

I had to call the fire department once. It was around this time of year: fall, a breezy day, everything dry as straw. My neighbor’s lawn guy had something go wrong with the lawn mower and he was trying to fix it. Something happened and the mower coughed to life, tearing his thumb off and throwing sparks into the hedge separating our two houses. The hedge immediately caught fire. I happened to be outside at the time and heard the guy shout; I knew my hose wouldn’t reach and called 911. The fire department and ambulance came, put out the fire, found the guy’s thumb in the bushes, and packed him and his thumb off the hospital (by the way, can anyone tell me why whenever you call for an ambulance a fire truck automatically comes too?).

So as they were packing up I was chatting with one of the firefighters in my neighbor’s driveway. This was right before the 2000 election and he pointed to my Gore/Lieberman campaign sign and joked, “now, if that sign was in front of this house I might not have stopped the truck!”

Ha ha that’s so fucking funny I almost forgot to laugh. Well, we see where that Bush era brand of tax cutting and Libertarian “government is the enemy” politics got us: cities like Colorado City, laying off firefighters, police officers, shutting libraries, etc.

Last week NPR talked about the national shuttering of fire stations because of budget cuts. This is irresponsible anywhere; in California — wildfire country — it’s insane. It’s true that Gene Cranick chose not to have his fire protection, but aren’t the people of these other communities really making the same choice, by not funding their fire departments? Of course they are.

This will break your heart:

That’s just what led to a tragedy in San Diego earlier this summer, when relatives brought a choking 2-year-old to the fire station down their block. The station was closed that day for budget reasons. It took 9 1/2 minutes for a paramedic to arrive. The boy did not survive.

Since when did public safety become a luxury? I just don’t get it. Since when did people in San Jose or San Diego become like Tennessee’s Gene Cranick, deciding these services aren’t worth paying for until they need them?

I’m trying to get a handle on this idea that we don’t want to pay for crucial services that we aren’t personally using, like the fire department and police department or schools. Is it part of a growing national selfishness? Is it part of a national spirit or recklessness? Some delusional belief that bad stuff will never happen to us, and if it happens to someone else, so what?

I suspect it’s something else. I think we’ve always had the “why should my money pay for so-and-so’s X, Y or Z” crowd out there, but that argument used to be countered by sane people who could explain exactly why. Somehow there’s a lack of rational voices stepping up at city council meetings and in the op-ed pages of their local newspaper to say hell no you can’t cut the fire department budget, this stuff’s important! Public safety matters! I mean how crazy is it that we’ve had nearly 10 years of constant fear porn about how the terrorists are wanting to kill us all yet from coast to coast we’re slashing our first responders? Does this make sense to anyone?

It doesn’t make sense to me.


Filed under Libertarians, taxes, Tennessee

33 responses to “Dude You HAVE No Fire Protection

  1. >Mitch McConnell and John Boehner say that fire fighters don't have jobs…because the government doesn't create any jobs.You might note that neither of these gentlemen have worked for anything other than the government their entire lives. But they could say they've been working for corporations and rich people in the private sector that whole time.And then we can say give back the public money and benefits you've stolen, hosers.~

  2. >The problem in South Fulton is simple—matters of public safety should not be left to voluntary subscription. We decided a long time ago in this state that children should receive an elementary and secondary education. The cost of maintaining public schools was factored into the budget and appropriate taxes levied. The public school system does not depend upon voluntary subscriptions by those who wish to send their children to public schools. The same has been true of police and fire protection in most jurisdictions and, as the South Fulton case demonstrates, should be true in South Fulton.

  3. >I wonder if Mr. Cranick has homeowner's insurance and what the reaction will be from the insurance company to the fact that he didn't pay for fire protection from South Fulton. I understand the firefighting company's position that because there was no one in personal danger they kept to their rule of no payment before the fire, no fire fighting. If they took the $75 at the time of the fire, that would be saying that the cost of a fire fight is $75 and more people would wait until a fire to pay for the service. That would make the system unsustainable. I do not understand why the American people are at this time so seemingly against societal support action in things like fire and police protection, public schools, and maintaining roads. It is a scary position. I hope that we get our brains and souls reconnected and change from this path. I fear the American experiment may not last to a third century celebration. PurpleGirl

  4. >Yeah I wondered about the homeowners insurance too. I'm guess someone who won't pay $75 for fire protection won't pay the couple hundred bucks for homeowner's insurance. And I'm guessing he doesn't have a mortgage because surely the bank wouldn't let him.

  5. >Nine, one, CLICK!Nine, one, CLICK!Nine, one, CLICK!

  6. >Years ago in some hamlet or other up here in NY, a local fire company let a house burn because the homeowner hadn't subscribed–only it turned out that he had. Now, as for the insurance company and their role. A friend of mine pointed out to me, many years ago, that the primary recipient of benefits in the case of fire departments doing their job is INSURANCE COMPANIES. Was a time when insurance companies maintained fire companies so that their clients could be protected–thus limiting the insurance companies liability. Now the state (through taxes) or local communities, by subscription, pick up the tab for fire fighting. I think there may be a lot more to this than the surface issues that were reported. Southern Beale, I don't know about where you live, but the ambulance calls in NH, MA and NY only result in fire engines showing up if the ambulances are what we all refer to as "rescue squads" (public service first responders); private ambulance service vehicles roll alone. The reason that the gummint meatwagons come with the shiny red trucks close behind is to provide extra support AND because it guarantees more guys on the manning chart at the fire station–blame the union, or thank them as is your wont.

  7. >Yeah if you call 911 for an ambulance you also get a fire truck. If you call a private ambulance service to transport your relative to a rehab hospital or hospice (as we did for my mother), you don't get a fire truck.Just seems that if someone calls 911 with chest pains, the "extra support" of a fire truck would be superfluous.

  8. >No takers?"What's the first thing you hear from a Libertarian with a house fire?"

  9. >I'm in San Diego at the moment, marveling at the second world look and feel the place has: potholes and broken pavement on most secondary roads, trash everywhere at the roadsides, a serious overpopulation problem. The poverty of the state funding is palpable. In the median, right beside a pothole, you'll see "No on D" signs. I looked up D, which is a municipal sales tax proposition for funding city services. I feel a blog post coming on.Nobody wants taxation; everybody wants the services they think they have a right to. Great job, SoBeale!

  10. >I'm in San Diego at the moment, marveling at the second world look and feel the place has ….It's not just San Diego, it's all of Southern California. Last time I was in Santa Monica I was appalled, saddened, shocked. I grew up there. Santa Monica had its seedy moments but the town never looked like a freaking third world country. Crumbling sidewalks, trash everywhere, overgrown grass in the median. Mostly it was just the trash everywhere which astonished me. That and the potholes.The Republicans have killed the place.

  11. >Yes, paying for services is good. But, in this case, do the parallels between the actions of the fire department, and a gang running a protection racket, seem a little blatant to you?"Yeah, boys. That's right. Youse just stands around an' watch it burn. Get the rest of those scmucks in line. THEN they'll pay us what they owe us."

  12. >Well Nameless Cynic, I did say in my post that I didn't think the fire department did the right thing. I thought they should charge him extra for "on the spot" coverage. But I think calling it a "a gang running a protection racket" is silly, even inflammatory. It doesn't change what it is, which is a flawed system. They should either mandate fire protection in the interest of public safety — fire spreads to neighboring properties, after all — or figure out a better way of covering people.The other thing is that it sounds like Cranick lived in a subdivision. It's one thing if your house is in the middle of 100 acres of soybeans and if it catches fire, not likely to be a risk to someone else. A subdivision is different and I'm surprised there isn't some kind of homeowners association or subdivision rules mandating that all homeowners have fire protection.

  13. >Nice post. I do take exception to one item: the notion that all existing firehouses need to remain open. The national standard for EMS arrival times is 6 minutes (some places 5.) 9.5 is clearly unacceptable, but there's some significant redundancy in the system that nobody benefits from.I can't speak to other cities, but I live in San Francisco, where our school system is destroyed and every teacher I know gets laid off every year and maybe rehired in the fall. At the same time, our fire department has 1300 guys making over $100k per year. Larger cities (San Jose, e.g.) have similar salaries, but half as many guys. We worry a lot about firefighters because we can come up with stark examples of homes burning down or kids choking to death…But the chronic underfunding of our education system is vastly more dangerous.

  14. >I don't think we should have to choose between public safety AND public education. If we lived in a sane country, *all* public services would be adequately funded and we wouldn't be squandering our fortunes on foreign resource wars.The sad thing is, we DO have enough money to fund public safety and public education. We're among the wealthiest nations in the world. The fact that we choose not to fund the things that are important is a failure of our culture. We are like little children who want to eat our dessert before we have our dinner. I keep waiting for the grown-ups to show up.

  15. >Some people say "Everything starts in California". I can't not mention how California's direct referendum system has made the stated ungovernable. The rest of the nation has had ample warning.

  16. >I can't not mention how California's direct referendum system has made the stated ungovernable.Yes, between that and Prop 13 you have a perfect example of an infantilized voter: they vote YES on spending for everything, vote NO on raising taxes. Does. Not. Compute.Again: send in the grow-nups.

  17. >What we have here is an unfortunate collision between unthinking anti-governmentalism and cold, hard reality (…or, rather – hot, dry reality.)If it depressed you too much, enjoy this Donald Duck/Glenn Beck mashup —http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfuwNU0jsk0

  18. >Around here, fire trucks are generally dispatched only in the event that a closer ambulance isn't available. For instance if you live in Station 1's region but Station 1's ambulance is already in use. Then Engine 1 would be dispatched AND Rescue 4 (from Station 4, the next closest in this hypothetical). Because Firefighters are EMTs as well so if the fire truck can get there faster they may be able to administer first-aid and/or stabilize the patient until the ambulance can get there for transfer.

  19. >There are a couple of interesting tax measures in the propositions this time around. Prop 21 would tack an $18 surcharge on your vehicle registration to provide funds for maintaining state parks and wildlife programs. California vehicles would get free parking at all state parks. Hi Nance! San Diego also has prop J, The Emergency Teacher Retention/Classroom Education Measure which levies a $98 annual parcel tax on single-family homes for the next five years with higher or lower taxes for other types of parcels, designed to ameliorate drastic state cuts to education funding.I shall look forward to your blog post.

  20. >The reason we care about firefighters is that they can die in the performance of their jobs.Two blocks from my apartment building is a fire station with a hook and ladder company and a rescue squad. Both lost members at the Twin Towers, but Rescue 4 also lost two members and Ladder 163 lost one member earlier in the year at a lumber and home building supply store fire that went to multiple alarms (meaning multiple fire companies responding)(on Father's Day, IIRC). So in one year, Rescue 4 and Ladder 163 were remanned twice.

  21. >First off, GREAT blog.I hate to be the unfeeling pig here, but I don't really have much sympathy for the Cranicks, and I have a good deal for mayor of South Fulton, the city council and the South Fulton FD. IF – as most of the anti-tax crowd suggests – you reduce taxes below the levels required to pay for services, then the only way to keep those services is by assessing fees for them. The Cranicks made a conscious decision to forgo the fee, which then means they refused the service. The city is obligated to hold them to their choices, as unpleasant as the consequences might be, or as has been suggested previously everyone would do the same and the system would be even more broken.I'm actually more incensed that the county is relying on the city to provide firefighting rather than convincing county residents to ante up for their own service. That ranks right up there with the San Diego item.I'm also more than a little suspicious of how quickly the news team showed up: the house was still burning, and the frames still standing, when the cameras began rolling. It strikes me that failing to pay for services that turn out to be necessary, then trying to blackmail/shame the public servants into delivering those services ("See? There's a news crew there, with a videocamera, filming you not doing your job!") isn't exactly a model for good citizenship. There is a time and place for public advocacy journalism, and crying to the reporters because you failed to do your part is not it.That the news crew obviously didn't understand that they were being played only adds to the ugliness of the tactic.Down here in FL, BTW, for a medical 911 call, where there are public ambulances (increasingly rare) a fire truck also rolls because the firemen also carry paramedics and both services' dispatch improves response time.

  22. >Sorry you had problems commenting, Boatboy … Blogger must have been hiccupy last night.I'm not suspicious about how "quickly" the news crews showed up at all — the fire burned for hours. And it's not like in this part of the world news reporters have a ton of other stories to be covering.Rural counties usually have volunteer fire departments, it's possible that paying for the South Fulton fire service is actually a better solution. I really don't know.

  23. >Um… is there a TV station anywhere on the planet that won't send out a camera to cover a fire? Any fire? There's nothing suspicious or unusual about that. News directors absolutely freaking love fires.

  24. >I caught a bit of Thom Hartman talking about this incident on the radio today.As he tells it, Obion Co is run by libertarian-leaning Rethugs, and having the Fire Dept operate on a subscription basis is one of their small govt ideas.The question is – are we a society that pulls together and supports one another, or are we a society of haves and have-nots, devided on economic lines.It's clear where the Rethugs want to take us.Check out Krugman's column today. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/04/opinion/04krugman.html?_r=1&th&emc=thWASF,JzB

  25. >I'm not sure anyone touched on this, but this homeowner may find themselves really out of luck. I would suggest that their homeowner's policy expects that they pay the necessary fee to have fire protection. Had the insurer known, their fire coverage premiums would have been considerably more than the paltry $75/year fee. I would not be surprised that their insurance company refuses to pay.I think it has been touched upon that this is the natural consequence of the anti-tax fervor that folks have taken on in the last 30 years. It's partly a result of Reagan's "government isn't the solution, it's the problem" or the whole craziness in governing in California. Around here, I comment that our local anti-tax group are the people who want something for nothing. Paying taxes for various services, such as police & firefighters, not to mention schools, libraries, roads, infrastructure improvements etc., is the price I pay to be part of a society. For these folks, they have no responsibility for the whole, only for themselves. These folks gambled and lost, probably bigger than they expected.I am from Cincinnati and it is here that the first professional municipal fire department was started. Part of it was that the volunteer corps were not getting the job done, or as was true elsewhere, your had competing fire companies fighting to get in on the action (and earn their pay). It sounds like the city down there has worked a good arrangement for the folks in the rural area where they'll provide coverage for the $75/year. Again, though, their insurer will have the final say on this (as might their mortgage company, if they have one).

  26. >I'm not sure anyone touched on this, but this homeowner may find themselves really out of luck.Someone did mention that. But people who live in rural areas don't always have homeowners' policies and they don't always have mortgages. Obviously I don't know what the Cranick's situation is, but I wouldn't at all be surprised to learn that someone who wouldn't pay $75 for fire protection didn't pay the $150 or whatever it is out there for a homeowners' policy.People in rural areas live differently from city folk.

  27. >As a suburbanite, I know ruralia lives differently than I do.But I'm wondering if any FD has an instant contract. "Sign this promise to pay $75 for every year you've owned your house, retroactively, and we'll put out the fire that's now burning." Maybe even adjust it up for inflation.Win-win?

  28. >Clearly something could have been worked out. Obviously you want to deter people from not paying until their house is actually on fire, if everyone did that this would create an obvious problem. A mandate, as I said, is an obvious solution. You MUST pay the fee. People in Tennessee don't like being told what to do but look what happens when someone doesn't: a family is out of a house, a neighbor's house was threatened (possibly damaged), other properties were put at risk, ill will has been created in the community: in short, what every liberal has always said would happen. There has been damage to the COMMON GOOD. I wonder if the neighbor could sue the Cranicks for negligence. Because they didn't have fire protection that created an unsafe situation which threatened their property.Interesting to see what will happen.

  29. >SB wrote: I wonder if the neighbor could sue the Cranicks for negligence. Because they didn't have fire protection that created an unsafe situation which threatened their property.———————————–I thought the same thing. Clearly they may have some cause against them since they failed to secure the coverage available.That said, since the anti-tax crowd have made taxes and fees such a taboo, it's time to tell them to just be quiet and learn how to live in a civilized society. A $75.00 fee should be attached to the county property tax bill, period. But since we're never allowed to talk about such thing, you end up with this sort of bad situation. It's the cost of living in a society.

  30. >"I don't think we should have to choose between public safety AND public education. If we lived in a sane country, *all* public services would be adequately funded and we wouldn't be squandering our fortunes on foreign resource wars. The sad thing is, we DO have enough money to fund public safety and public education. We're among the wealthiest nations in the world. The fact that we choose not to fund the things that are important is a failure of our culture. We are like little children who want to eat our dessert before we have our dinner. I keep waiting for the grown-ups to show up."Don't get me wrong – I hate Prop 13 with every bone in my body and it infuriates me that no one in California currently under the age of 50 got a chance to vote on it.But there's another element here, which is that we have to make do with present resources and we (as a society) seem to give in to everything that firefighters want. The argument that firefighters should be well-paid because they do a dangerous public sector job doesn't hold water. We pay our soldiers next to nothing, and they are much more likely to die. Some #s on that:# of firefighters in the US: 1.15M (750k volunteer)# of soldiers: 1.48M (2.94 incl reserves)# of firefighter fatalities in the US, 2009: 90# of armed forces combat fatalities per year since 2001: ~600Anyways, my broader point is that there are hundreds of thousands of people in the US who would work as firefighters, but because we're committed to paying them $100k+, there are no jobs for them. As a result, the system is understaffed and we're forced to put public safety at risk. Try to make the system even remotely more efficient (ie – close stations that don't improve response times) and everyone starts scaremongering.Imagine how different the country would be if we couldn't touch our school funding for fear of dropping below national standards that guaranteed every child an amazing education???

  31. >OK, so here's my problem. It's still in the "protection racket" area.Check this video from Keith Olbermann. As Mr Cranick (the homeowner) put it:"Why should I want to put up a business or build a new home around when they're not going to do you — treat you right. And another thing is…part of my tax dollars comes back to this town, I think, for fire trucks…"

  32. >It's no more a protection racket than paying taxes to fund welfare is charity.What amuses me is watching this story morph and transform as time wears on. Now Cranick is saying he "forgot" to pay his $75 fee. On Saturday he said "I thought they'd come out even if you didn't pay the fee. I guess I was wrong."Amazing how the excuse sorta morphs and changes as national attention is paid to this story and the criticism floods in, isn't it?

  33. >It's still in the "protection racket" area.Except that the city FD had the option not to go outside the city limits at all. Maybe it would have been better off not doing so, because it would make the issue even more cut and dried. They extended their coverage area as a courtesy, and now they're getting slammed for it? Really?You can see the city FDs in that county saying "we feel a duty to people out in the county, because they're part of our community" but a sense of duty doesn't pay for hoses and oxygen tanks and services for fire engines. Those fire departments made it clear to the county government that the smart way forward was to combine forces and cover everyone, but there were no takers for that plan.