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Pay to Spray?


A fire department’s controversial decision to allow a rural Tennessee home to burn because a family didn’t pay for services has sparked a national debate.

On Tuesday, IAFF’s General President Harold Schaitberger condemned the policy of the city of South Fulton in Obion County.

At issue is the former home of Gene Cranick. 

The home owner says he forgot to a pay a $75 subscription fire service fee. Cranick lives outside of the South Fulton’s city limits and is required by law to pay the annual fee. While speaking with 911 Cranick offered to pay all expenses for the fire department to save his property. But his request was refused. 

Instead, fire fighters responded to a call from Cranick’s neighbors (who paid the fee) and worried that the fire would spread to his home. Once they arrived fire fighters were not allowed to save Cranick’s home.

The issue is hitting home with fire fighters. 

Many of you are commenting on blogs such as the Fire Critic expressing how you would have responded if placed in a similar situation.

Should South Fulton change its policy so fire fighters can do their jobs?

Here’s a round-up of stories relating to the issue:


Comments (28) -

  • Mark Garcie

    10/6/2010 2:24:06 PM |

    The action of this fire agency hurts all firefightes nation wide. Public fire departments, supported by taxpayer's funds should never stop taking action because some one did not pay a fee, or even require some one to pay a fee.

    Basic fire and EMS services should be a priority of a government agency and the fire department, and provided to the public wit out restrictions.

    When "for - profit" an "pay for service" gets involved in our career, this is the result.

    It is plain wrong and places the public at risk.

    Mark Garcie
    IAFF Local 2881

  • David Schoen

    10/8/2010 3:55:29 PM |

    I agree that this gives the fire service a black eye but what if a firefighter were injured or killed in a house fire that he or she should not have been in? What if the crew caused unnesseccary damage to the homeowner's property or damaged or destroyed department equipment or apparatus? The IAFF and our locals go to great lengths to help ensure the "safest" working environment possible and hold our agencies accountable. We can't have it both ways.

    Local 1518

  • Franklin L. Sexton, Sr.

    10/8/2010 4:12:37 PM |

    If ALL firefighters and fire departments get a "black eye", then, i wonder, are they "all" willing to send $$$ to South Fulton, Tennessee to help that Department pay their bills?  It seems to me the "Fire Service Fee" should be treated as an insurance premium.  Remember, the dwelling in question is OUTSIDE of the RESPONSIBILITY area of South Fulton.  The taxpayers of South Fulton should not be required nor asked to subsidize people who are not within their community.  I doubt that they would say, "hey, we pay for the Fire Department, but, anyone else can use it for free."  Is State Farm insurance RESPONSIBLE when a non-insured house that sits in between two of their insureds dwellings catches fire and burns to the ground? NOT.  Offering on the 911 phone line to pay for costs is the equivalent of dropping your television off of a roof and then offering to pay the insurance premium to cover it, before it hits the ground.

  • Chris Soileau

    10/8/2010 4:21:16 PM |

    This was a very unfortunate incident. It's more than just a matter of an unpaid fee. As a long-time volunteer and career firefighter, I understand how difficult it must have been to not be able to make a positive difference in that incident. But looking at it objectively, due to the type of structure and location, could an offensive attack even made a positive difference? Many times in rural areas we have no choice but to play defense for surrounding structures and do little or nothing for the origin. Regarding the fee, it seems that the municipality has done a thorough job year after year of advocating for and collecting the fees to provide that type of "insurance" for properties outside  of it's taxpaying base. No one wanted this to happen. It isn't the municipality's legal responsibility to cover areas outside, but is it there moral one? Probably. But what about the system in place for compensation to fund that response in advance? Is it fair to the rest of the paying group for some to have the same coverage for free? Personally, I think they should have responded all the same and the municipality should be able to impose a much higher fee if response is necessary for an unpaid property owner, post-incident. Insurance could pick up a $1500 or so bill for response to such a situation, if enforceable, or a lien could be placed on the property (such is done with hazardous abandoned properties in which the city cleans up). The point is to encourage property owners to pay a "donation" for service annually to allow for budgeting etc for that service in advance. Furthermore, if unfunded protection is such as issue, why haven't the outlying areas established a volunteer fire service in that area for all to benefit from the actions and dedication by a few? It seems that all of those annual contributions could well help to fund such a department.
    Volunteers throughout the world spend countless hours providing professional-grade fire protection to areas like this every day. Sounds like a good candidate to me.

  • Steve Henrichson

    10/8/2010 4:36:33 PM |

    I believe that the fire department did what it had to. If there had been somebody inside the structure then I know they would have responded for the rescue but the owner decided not to pay the required fee to protect his home. As a Professional firefighter I understand that if they had responded and put out the fire then next year nobody would pay the fee as they know that the service will be provided even if they don't pay. Should the county create a Department? If you read the whole story they tried that and the voters said NO. Life saving and Property protection are two different things and If you want to protect your property pay the fee.

  • John Bisser

    10/8/2010 4:42:35 PM |

    Save lives, protect property, first!! Argue about money later. It's that simple.
    John Bisser local 964 retired.

  • Mike Filippini

    10/8/2010 4:59:12 PM |

       Question?  media is reporting the caller told 911 he knew he " did not pay my $75.00, but..."  That doesn't seem right to me.
    Perhaps the fire prompted his memory.

      Is the subscription method one of the worst possible for funding the fire service?  Absolutely. Hearkens back to the old days, doesn't it?
      But the citizens of S Fulton and the citizens out in the county had countless time to debate and figure out how they wanted fire service protection and presumably voted on it or for the representatives.  I guess taxes for all was not a option they would vote on, or could get passed.
      I know, also, that many people live outside the city to evade the troubles of living in town; i.e. taxes, open burning, codes, etc.
      The idea of a lien on property sounds good, but would people in the county, whose house is not burning, agree to that deal?
      And all the moral outrage?  I don't get it.
      If the fire was fought and, let's say 10,000 dollars of damage done, but the homeowner forgot to pay his homeowner's insurance and  says, "here's my premium I didn't pay. cover my loss, please."  I don't think it would work and don't think there would be a lot of sympathy.
      Is there a difference?  Maybe I am missing it.
      Lastly, I am assuming the governing body had a system in place for collecting fees, at least as reliable as any of my insurance companies.  Bills are received.  And I get notices as protection is about to expire.  If the system is not in place, then I can sympathize w/the homeowner.

    Lcl 49/Ret

  • Tommy

    10/8/2010 7:35:47 PM |

    I am one of those that think they did the right thing. They did protect the property next door,which had paid their fee. I also had heard that the owner hadnt paid the fee in many years not just one. It is unfortunate, but like others have said if you dont pay your fees for other services then you dont get that service. I do hope that they would of attempted a rescue if needed.
    This should be a wake-up call to the county and some how implement the fee into a bill like water or electric bill like Shelby county does.  

  • Kenneth Rogers L0718

    10/8/2010 8:22:31 PM |

    So, I didn't pay the required seventy five dollars for fire protection. So you get No service, or is it the way of this goverment to give and not get back. This call Department I'm assuming probably buys house supplies with the seventy dollars to keep up the house work in the firehouse.The Fire Department probably responded to protect the exposures of people who paid,can't fault that. And I am sure if there was a life hazard, paid or not, involved they would have gone into action. I pay a lot of money for house insurance, I also pay a lot of money in taxes for fire and police protection. But I have NO say when we lay Firefighters off, and guess what most of the Mayor's who threaten to, or do lay off Firefighters are YES Democratic, the one's our International back on election time. Look at Camden New Jersey, Mayor plans on laying off seventy seven Firefighters, do a bio on the Mayor Dana L. Redd, yes she is a Democrat.When will my International STOP backing this party!!!!!! Can or Can't my leaders of this International realize we are being USED, by one party. "International head fuming at action taken by Fire Department, Could reason be they are not union and NOT paying money to the International?  How many call and volunteers DIE in a year doing our job, and leave families. "GOD BLESS THEM, AND IN GOD WE TRUST"

  • R Steffens

    10/8/2010 9:25:02 PM |

    The caring and daring in us wants to put the fire out and save life and property at every call. However, we are all facing difficult budget situations in our own communities and after spending the last 2 decades of doing more with less, we have less to do anything with. In this case, we have a community where the citizens prefer to not pay the taxes or fees necessary to have fire protection, and thus were not entitled to the service. The municipality can remedy this situation in a number of ways, but the easiest is to raise property taxes to a rate that covers the fees of the South Fulton FD for EVERYONE, then there will be no question that they are entitled to service. Remember Tennessee is a very conservative and independent minded state, and fire and ems services are expensive these days. The money has to come from somewhere, and like our unions in "right to work states" we can't force firefighters to join, but we don't give them service when they get in trouble either. Same difference.

  • rj jacques

    10/8/2010 10:16:59 PM |

    Okay how much were the responders getting paid? Divide that by $75.00 and after that amount of time attack the fire. Or just be proud of your job and sit on your hands and do nothing. That is exactly what we have been taught sit and watch, right? Ro your job and argue later(good samaritan, remember) Actually everybody resign and then sign up again in the morning. Thanks for the black eye guys. I thought fire fighters were supposser to stand for something?  

  • Ryan Hornback

    10/8/2010 10:41:09 PM |

    Two quick comments:

    1) What many communities fail to realize is that homeowner insurance policies will pay a certain amount to the fire department in the instance of a house fire because it is an overwhelming burden on the fire department when a fire strikes.  In Illinois, some communities have issued ordinances of charges up to $500.00 for house fires, and collection rates are somewhere around 100% at no cost to the homeowner outside of their standard premium.  It's already in the policies, villages just have to send the bill.  With this in place, you can send the additional $75 bill afterward, with a late fee if you like......

    2) When a neighbor (that paid his bill) calls out of concern for his own property, wouldn't that be just cause for the fire department to put the fire out?  If I was the bill-paying neighbor I wouldn't be too happy about MY property being put at an unnecessary risk of burning down after paying MY bill.......

    "Put the fire out so we can all go home."

    Ryan Hornback
    Calumet City Firefighters Local #621
    Calumet City, IL
    "They're not gonna catch us, we're on a mission from God...."

  • Jim Phillips

    10/9/2010 12:06:40 AM |

    The Fire Dept gets part of its budget from the $75.00 a year fee. If they still put the fire out without receiving the fee, what is to stop all county residents from paying the yearly fee altogether? Then if a fire event happens at their home, they just simply state "I will pay you the fee now? Then who makes up for the loss of revenue??? No different than having insurance, you don't go out buying insurance with the thought your going to have an accident, you buy it in case you have an accident. The fire department did their job.

  • Aaron Brennan

    10/9/2010 12:46:34 AM |

    I'm sorry. When you graduate from a fire academy & you take an oath to protect lives and property, it doesn't matter if the person can pay you for your service. You don't tell a sick person you can't take them to the ER if they don't have insurance. Bottom line - would they have let their child's (mom,dad etc) house burn? No. So they shouldn't have let this one burn.

    I feel for those firefighters, they were put in a tough spot, and they chose poorly. But we know life is not about when you get knocked down, it's about getting back up They need to publicly state that their actions were unequivocally wrong. Then they need to have a fundraiser to help rebuild that house.

    If I had been on that call, I would've pulled the $75 out of my pocket, threw it to whoever said "don't put it out, he didn't pay" and then gone and done my sworn duty.

  • Oscar Wiltse

    10/9/2010 8:51:52 AM |

    "Subscription" fire department service is an invitation for trouble.  The elected officials of the next level of government (probably the county government) should exert some leadership and create a "fire protection district" (or districts)for all unincorporated areas of the county, levy an annual $75 tax per household, and contract with the nearest municipality for fire protection.  That way everybody pays, the cost is divided equally, and everybody is covered.  That is what most of the rest of America does.  How do they provide police/law enforcement or ambulance/EMS to the unincorporated areas of the county?
    Oscar Wiltse (retired firefighter/paramedic - Palm Beach County, Florida)

  • William Hetherington (local 1552)

    10/9/2010 11:14:56 AM |

    Although we brothers and sisters of the IAFF are as one, we are employed by municipalities that set the rules. They pay our wages and provide our benifits and therefore they can dictate where and when we will fight a fire. If we freelance and do as we please we may be doing so without benifit of workers compensation, thus it could be a very detrimental outcome. Someometimes we can not do what we feel is right. We must do what we get paid to do. People with higher authority get paid to diredt us.

  • Van Tomokiyo

    10/9/2010 2:00:08 PM |

    First, I am sorry that Mr. Cranick forgot pay his fire protection 'subscription' and subsequently lost his house. First Responder fire service has and will always be a standby 'insurance policy'... "We're there, when you need us". It should be readily supported by government without the need of surcharge taxes and jurisdictional mutual aid agreements.
    Secondly, this is just another example of the complicated issues surrounding politics and legislation. Mr. Schaitberger should take this issue to Government Affairs and utilize FIREPAC monies to support the midterm Democratic candidates for Congress. The Republicans have only been putting out 'speed bumps', saber rattling and calling for less government for the past 18 months. Who did the critics of the Deepwater Horizon spill look to? Did governor Jindal turn to BP for a remedy? NO, they all asked, "where are FEMA and the Coast Guard"? These agencies would not have been able to respond as quickly, as they did, if there was less government.
    Lastly, to all brothers and sisters of the Fire Service... Stay safe and VOTE.

  • dhogelin L1575

    10/9/2010 2:33:49 PM |

    Yes this is a sad thing, we are so conditioned to call 911 and expect a response of fire, rescue or police. Yet with the tide of no taxes and goverment cut backs in the fore front and people like Glen Beck leading the cry I am afraid we may see more of this type of operation. Even the bigger cities with stations closings and extended response times making a fire that could have been easily extinguished one that is out of control on arrival!

  • Patrick Forbes

    10/9/2010 4:31:52 PM |

    They did this in Florida and I sent out the alert. Why should Tennessee be immune. Seems to work for them, eh.
    I advised my mum in Florida so that she could get her neighbourhood aware of the consequences. She and everyone else in her neighbourhood CAN'T afford the increased home insurance costs nor policy cancellation should they "Opt Out" of Municipal fire protection like that poor fella did in Tennessee.
    This is not a good road to go down, eh.

  • Vince Lombardi

    10/9/2010 7:31:32 PM |

    I am retired from local 734 and I beat my pension if it was a congressman, senator or one of their local pollination's that forgot to pay his or her tax the fire dept. would have responded. They could have fought over the tax after wards, we don't stand by a watch a home destroyed for no resown. When we ask the public for support for our pay raise or help in keeping the fire house open we hope they stand by us, then to let this happen. No way, if I was on duty I would have responded to the call. If one would have went others would have followed. This is no way for a fire fighter to act under no condition. This is a insult to all that way the uniform.

  • JP Moore

    10/9/2010 7:59:13 PM |

    First of all I do not have all the facts such as type of structure, fire conditions, man power, water supply,etc....    
    Let me be clear, I am not armchair quarter backing their tactics.
      However, If this is true at face value, this situation gives a tremendous black eye to the fire service.  We all are in this profession to help our fellow man, volunteer or paid.  I undrstand the need for funding in this difficult econimic time, but honestly you can not selectively render aid once called to duty.  What would $75 cover anyway???  Would this department been able to sleep at night if there was a rescue situation at this fire and refused to save a life until $75 was paid???? Are we in the 1700's??  Is Ben Franklin the fire chief???  If I were the company officer on this scene, I would have began fire suppression and paid the Chief his $75 when the job was done. I am sure they wasted more than $75 worth of diesel while they watched.  Use your heads! I could not work for a department that thinks this is acceptable.  This is not the tme to pull a stunt like this when we REALLY need taxpayer support to keep us in jobs!   What do we do??  We help people.

    JP Moore L4511

  • Jeff

    10/9/2010 10:11:51 PM |

    I can understand that the Chief had to follow his rules. Homeowner should have paid the bill. The normal procedure in my area is to notify the homeowner there will be a charge for us responding due to fact he has not paid his subscription fee and he lives outside of City limits and pays no city taxes. If he agrees to pay bill then trucks are sent to his residence. This is a recorded conversation at our Communications center and it works well. Usually bill is around $750.00. This takes all the heat off of the fire dept and puts it onto property owner. City taxpayers should not be required to pay expenses for people who live outside of city limits and need help.

  • R. Gibbs

    10/10/2010 2:46:54 PM |

    Everybody has their own policy and procedure as to any fire scene but let's get real. Is seventy five dollars going to make any difference on their economy,NO. If they were to have worked the fire would they have billed the insurance if available, YES. Do we ever ask before making entry to see someones insurance verification, NO. Would our workman's comp have still been in effect if someone got hurt even if the seventy five dollars would have not been paid, Probably so. Bottom line is that when I come on the job we swore to protect LIFE & PROPERTY ! That's what we do, when someone is in trouble they look to us, Do we say look to us if you can pay ? I hope I never see that day. We have the same setup in our area and I cannot remember one time when our dispatcher asked before hand if they had a subscription. As far as putting ourselfves in danger if they hadn't paid , Come on get serious! What was seventy five dollars going to do for anybody. In the end, do your job and then worry about the money and change your SOP.
           R. Gibbs, Capt
           Local 3567

  • Steve G

    10/12/2010 9:23:04 AM |

    First off, I doubt the mobile home was savable from the beginning, and putting firefighters into a mobile home is not the best or safest decision that can be made. I think I would have gone defensive, put the fire out and back charged the home owner. These types of structures are replaceable and not worth it. That being said, when you live in a non-incorporated area, don't pay taxes for services, and don't expect such services without the fire protection charge, you have to expect these things to happen. I’m sure if there was a PERSON in the mobile home, they would have tried to make the save, but without a life hazard I think they were right to protect the exposures.
    I think that we cannot judge their life style, or how they choose to establish their local government. It’s not our place to interfere. I also doubt that they pay for all the social programs that we do, welfare, food stamps, bailouts, etc.  
    Ultimately, these are local issues, not national. So long as the Fire Chief followed his SOG’s and was reasonable we cannot fault him. That is the system that has been set up for that area, and everyone there knows it. How about some personable responsibility on the homeowner?  If he did not pay his insurance bill do you think the insurance company should honor the policy? I think not. If you don’t pay your bills, you have no one else to blame but yourself.

  • A Murphy

    10/12/2010 2:19:25 PM |

    Everyone keeps saying Black Eye what ever happened to common sense in this country,why dont we throw out all the rules. This is an easy one NO PAY NO PLAY they were being nice by charging $75.00 per year for fire coverage let me repeat that $75.00 PER YEAR! He thought he was going to beet the system like every low lifeout there, but his neighbor paid the money so he deserved what he got.

  • Brian Smith

    10/13/2010 8:30:18 AM |

    The Fire Service was not built on the premise that one home should be spared from fire and one not. We fight fires, protecting life and property. It doesn't matter the status of the men and women of this department, they and their administrators should continually fight for the reversal of these types of laws that pit neighbor against neighbor, firefighter against citizen, for the sake of politicians.

    We have fought these types of battles when a private company comes in and takes over a department in a city after some politician gets a whiff of minuscule savings, why not in this incident? This is a ridiculous law! you mean to tell me that $75.00 is the difference between fighting a fire or watching the home, worth hundreds times that amount, burn to the ground?

    We fight fires in my city at a monetary cost far exceeding the homes value in some cases. Never have we stopped to count the cost of fighting the fire as opposed to the worth and neither should any other department.

    Local 1803 Reading Firefighters

  • Scott Dobbins

    10/13/2010 11:31:51 AM |

    I believe attacking this Fire Department for following their guidelines is inappropriate.

    Doing a little research on the topic showed that Obion County, Tennessee is over 550 square miles. The town of Fulton, is split into two states, South Fulton in Tennessee and Futon in Kentucky. I am assuming this department, South Fulton, is providing fire protection for Citizens in two states, and if you pay, the local outlying areas.

    The County has no fire protection. They have a nice new jail and sheriff’s office but no fire service. With all of the federal money that is available this county could have received enough grant money to build several fire stations and buy equipment. All they needed is the volunteers to staff them or hire some paid personnel. Obviously they chose the cheaper and less labor oriented approach. The homeowner, for the price of a Mickey D’s happy meal each month could have had fire protection. The homeowner chose not to pay it.

    Whether or not he paid for the service may have had little effect on the outcome of the situation. I work in a paid southern department and for those of you who haven’t been to trailer fires, they burn really fast. Even if you arrive quickly the initial attacks are usually window and door knockdowns. Remember this home came with tires on it.

    Another issue is volunteers in the South compared to the North. My wife is from Ohio, and the volunteers up North are respected members of the community. In the South you are generally classified as lowly civil service employees. I know of a department that received grants for two new stations and two pumpers. The buildings were built and the pumpers were purchased but they never could get volunteers to staff the stations. The stations sit with weeds growing around them, and the pumpers were sent to the main station so they could be used and not fall apart from neglect.

    I feel that many of the negative statements made by firefighters about this department are coming from people in glass houses and they should not be throwing stones. If you worked in town A, and town B closed its fire department down, I doubt most of you would be happy to respond to town B for every call “free of charge” year after year after year.

    Scott H. Dobbins
    President IAFF Local 1460

  • Sean Lester (Marion)

    10/17/2010 10:34:06 AM |

    It simply comes down to he CHOSE not to pay the fee and therefore knowinglyCHOSE not to have fire protection.  Comparatively, if someone were to choose to drive a vehicle without insurance then cause an accident that seriously hurt (or worse) a member of your family, should the insurance company step up and take care of everything if they offered to pay their premium after the fact? Would you be a sympathetic then?
    Admittedly I don't a lot of the details, only what the nedia has spun, but from the firefighters standpoint, if an injury had occurred what would BWC say if they injured themselves being somewhere they should not have been?

    Sean Lester
    IAFF Local 379

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