Firefighters Forced to Let Homes Burn Because of Unpaid Fees

Target: South Fulton Mayor David Crocker

Goal: Change the policy so no family in or near South Fulton, TN ever has to watch their home burn down while firefighters simply look on.

No one likes to think that bad things will happen to them. That’s what Vicky Bell and her boyfriend thought when they decided not to pay an annual $75 fee for fire protection, from the fire department of the nearby city of South Fulton, TN; that “a fire would never happen to them.” Unfortunately it did happen, in early December of this year, but when Bell called 911 firefighters came – and watched from a distance, only present to make sure the fire didn’t spread to other homes. Her mobile home completely burned down, but what makes this situation sadder is that this is the second time this has happened in Obion County, Tennessee. In September 2010, Gene Cranick and his family’s home also burned down, along with their four pets, as firefighters stood by because of the unpaid fee.

There are many things wrong with such a policy. For one, it’s ethically questionable. A firefighter’s job and purpose is to put out fires and save lives, even if the person whose home is on fire has never paid money to the fire department. The International Association of Fire Fighters has criticized the decision to let the homes of non-fee-payers burn down. Secondly, it’s questionable in practicality. If money, to keep the fire department supplied and trained, is truly the issue, then exceptions should be made to homeowners who agree on the spot to pay a fee as their home is burning down. Cranick offered to pay whatever would be necessary to put out the fire consuming his house, but nothing was done. This, even though in a nearby county the policy is to start with a $110 annual fee, and then when people who chose not to pay find themselves about to become homeless due to a ravaging fire, have the option of immediate fire protection that costs over $1,000 per hour. It’s expensive, but still useful, and a protection that the members of Obion County don’t have. Yet another option would be to put out the fire first, and then put the homeowners on a payment plan, much like they do in ERs.

South Fulton’s strict adherence to the $75 fire fee is costing people their homes. This policy must be updated and changed, before someone else’s home is left to burn down.


Dear Mayor Crocker,

I am writing in protest of the actions not taken in response to peoples’ homes burning down. Twice now the homes of two Tennesseans have been destroyed, along with all their possessions and even their pets, even though help was available.

I don’t have a problem with the fact that the fire department requires funding in order to help the people outside the city of South Fulton. Fire fighters need training and working equipment, and all of that must be paid for. What is disturbing is that the policy only allows people to pay through the once-a-year, $75 fee, and that rule is followed much too severely. If you don’t think your house will ever burn down it seems like a waste of money, but if you are watching your home burn right in front of you, it doesn’t take much convincing to get you to write a check on the spot for however much it costs to save your house and everything inside. There are ways to make sure that the South Fulton Fire Department gets the financial compensation it needs without letting any more homes burn down. Two homes in recent years have burned down because of un-paid fees; obviously they are not serving as a warning to other homeowners.

Please do something to update the policy of non-action when a home is on fire and the owners have not paid the fee. The next time a house burns down and fire fighters have to stand by and watch, someone might still be inside.


[Your Name Here]

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