Wednesday, October 06, 2010

My Brother's Keeper?

A Tennessee family lost its home last week as firefighters watched it burn to the ground with three dogs and a cat inside, along with everything they owned. The rural community of Obion County charges an annual $75 fee for fire protection outside the South Fulton city limits, which the owners had not paid.

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

The firefighters refused to respond to several 911 calls, although Cranick offered to pay all costs if they would save his house, and only came to the scene when the field of a neighbor, who had paid his fee, caught fire.

Cranick begged the fire chief to make an exception and save his home, but the chief said, "The city manager will make a statement in the morning and ya'll can see him in his office." The town's mayor sided with the fire department saying, "Anybody that's not in the city limits of South Fulton, it's a service we offer, either they accept it or they don't."

Friends and neighbors said it's a cruel and dangerous city policy, but Mr. Cranick doesn't blame the firefighters themselves, only the people in charge. "They're doing their job. They're doing what they are told to do. It's not their fault," he said. I beg to differ.

Small bureaucratic minds believe that if they make an exception, the rules become meaningless and nobody will pay the fee. I would like to think that most people are basically good when they follow their conscience, but a mindless adherence to inhumane policies is a slippery slope. The Holocaust should have taught us that.

(I don't make the rules; I just work here. I'm just following orders. It's not my problem. It's not my fault.)

I believe that we do have a responsibility to help others when we can. It's unconscionable that firefighters, generally perceived as heroic, even checked their ledgers when the 911 call came in to see if the caller had paid his fee, and even more unforgivable in tough economic times when $75 could buy a family's groceries for a few days. I wonder if we are devolving as a species.


furiousBall said...

that is fucking amazing. there should be a hypocratic oath for everyone it seems

Bob said...

I heard about this earlier today, and couldn't believe it. Now I see that it was a measly $75, I don't know what to say. Couldn't they have put the fire out and then bill them for it? It's unconscionable.

secret agent woman said...

I agree that it should be otherwise, but it ought to be provided for in some way - property taxes could be increased by $75 a year so that they could respond to all calls.

But, it's a dilemma without an easy answer for the individual firefighters. What are the consequences if they break the rule and put out the fire? Do they lose their jobs? Presumably they have mortgages to pay and children to feed, too.

The Hippocratic oath, incidentally, doesn't require health care workers to treat every single person who walks through their doors whether or not they are wiling to pay. In an ideal world they could, but they are no less bound by financial obligations than someone in any other type of employment.

I guess my thinking on this is that it is too complicated to simply blame the firefighters or to suggest that the restraints they have been placed under are their fault or make them Nazi-like if they follow the rules of their employers. The problem is in the system and in the idea that we, as a society, do not have an obligation to provide basic services like fire fighting (and health care) to our citizens. ALL our citizens.

Spindrift said...

As a student studying in Australia at university, my uni fees are subsidised and on a loan scheme I only have to pay back if I earn a salary that is high (by my standards).
- I am paid a fortnightly income to study
- I can start at Certificate level and go through to a PHD
- Health care is free
- Prescription medications are generally no more than $5 a script
- Dental is free
- Ambulances are free
- Public Transport is subsidised
- Water, Gas, Electricity are all subsidised by the government.

My wife recently injured her wrist and had specialist appointments all free.

In fact I can't seem to remember putting my hand in my pocket for anything. Oh, wait, I did pay for a cheap pair of glasses, but to check my eyesight is free, and my parents told me afterwards I could have got government specs.

A 'fair go' for everyone I say. Health and Education should be free and Welfare should be provided to those who need it.

I thought the Government was there to look after us.

If they start taking these basic necessities away from humans what hope is there.

This story, no, I can't believe it. I mean, I beleive it, I'm just amazed that it is true. People should have a collection for that guy and build him a new house.

People should lobby the Government to make sure this never happens again.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

I've read your posts for a long time, now, my dearest of Hearts.

We are indeed devolving as a species.

This is unfathomable. How could anyone stand and watch that happen? Anyone with an ounce of integrity? I am speechless.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Spindrift, I am moving to Australia.

S & V

Anonymous said...

I've never read of such a shitty bureaucratic attitude. That's appalling. No, I correct myself, I have indeed read of such stick up the ass bureaucrats. It was called Nazi Germany.

Warty Mammal said...

Self-righteous bastards.

English Rider said...

First of all "It's just plain WRONG!
Secondly, imagine being a renter who has no idea his landlord didn't pay the fee?

nick said...

I'm sort of with Secret Agent Woman. As she says, if the firefighters decide to break the rules, do they risk their own jobs? The problem's not with the ordinary firefighters but the politicians and administrators who make the policies.

At the moment it's like an insurance policy - if you haven't paid your premium, you won't get the service. But the point is that emergency services like fire, police and healthcare should all be tax-funded, as they are in the UK and many other countries. Even if I lived in a remote corner of the Shetland Isles, I would still get a free fire service.

Jo said...

Whatever happened to human beings helping other human beings? I hope there is a backlash to this. It's really heartbreaking. And yes, we do seem to be devolving as a species.

The Good Cook said...

Unbelievable. Each and every member of the city council, along with the mayor and the fire chief and firefighters should be brought up on criminal charges. What if there had been PEOPLE trapped inside that home? Would they have waived the $75 fee then?

Anonymous said...

Once again this shows that we have subjugated ourselves to the worship of money and finances. They come first above even common sense and humanity. Instead of the attitude of "if you hurt, I hurt", we get the aggro of, "I'm alright Jack, so that's not my problem.

The house owner was rather too understanding. I wouldn't have understood at all and I would have raised a ruckus.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Good idea, since the Golden Rule is optional.


The homeowner offered to pay all costs, but they weren't buying it. It's a sad statement about our humanity as a society.


I don't think fire protection should be like insurance - everyone should be covered, no matter how they work out the financing.

It's hard to imagine that a small town would fire its firefighters, especially for an "infraction" like putting out a family's house fire. Where would they get replacements?

There were three dogs and a cat in that house who died horrible deaths. It seems the outcome wouldn't have been different if humans were inside. I think it's criminal, and ultimately the "system" and the firefighters were to blame. We DO have a responsibility to do the right thing as individuals, especially when the wrong thing is so unthinkable.


I have always heard wonderful things about Australia. Its generosity even extends to foreigners, as demonstrated when your country sent rescue teams to find the American teenager whose sailboat got stranded in the Indian Ocean a few months ago.

The menu of free or low-cost basic services you mention is most impressive. Nearly everything on that list is very costly in the US.

I have no doubt there will be follow-up on this story because most people are outraged. Thank you for your visit!


There is video footage of the fire trucks driving away as the house burned to the ground. It really is unthinkable that this could happen. Who needs foreign enemies when we can treat our own neighbors so brutally?


Just following orders. I don't understand how anyone could think this was ok.


Perhaps the firemen WERE scared for their jobs, but there is something terribly wrong when that is a factor in fighting a fire.


A rental contract would probably cover that, but if it didn't and a tenant's house burned down under such circumstances, it seems the tenant would have a good law suit against his landlord.


I am not unsympathetic to those who fear losing their jobs, but fail to understand how such a policy could go unchallenged.

If I were the homeowner, I might have tried to seize a fire hose myself, and I would certainly have gone into the house to try to save my pets.


What does it take to make people do the right thing, regardless of cost? If this doesn't do it, what hope is there?


I speculated on that in an earlier comment. I'm guessing not. Rules are rules, after all.


One of the sure signs of decay in a society is when people don't care about each other even under such drastic circumstances. And yet, many of these same people probably contribute to their churches and the Red Cross, etc. The issue is doubtless more complicated in reality than it seems to me, but distilled to its essence, it truly stinks.

Fickle Cattle said...

Wow. This was awful. It's like they weren't even human beings. Mindless automatons.

I am Fickle Cattle.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Fickle Cattle,

It's possible - they didn't act like humans.

Thank you for your visit, but I'm curious as to how you found my blog since I've never heard of any of the ones you follow. You should be congratulated for being on Blogger only since July 2010, and already you have 493 followers. How on earth did you do that?

TaraDharma said...

I saw this story on the news and was horrified. I agree with you, those firefighters were also complicit. If any army general gives orders to burn a village of civilians, it is the soldiers repsonsibility to say NO.

If nothing else, if I were one of the firefighters, I would say, FUCK IT, I'll pay the guy's bill!

this is a barbaric practice.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I had the same thought about someone, anyone, paying the guy's bill. But I can't get over the idea of firemen checking their lists twice, like Santa Claus, to see who's been naughty or nice.

secret agent woman said...

I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe the outcome would have been the same if there had been humans inside. Sure you don't believe those firefighters, who risk their lives all the time, are so monstrous they'd have watched people die?

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I don't know what to think. Their behavior, whether it was independent or in adherence to policy, was abominable. Living creatures were allowed to die horribly even after the home owner offered to pay all costs. Since firefighters are traditionally incredibly heroic, this bizarre situation is outside every belief system I have ever had.

Lex said...

I was way to angry about this to say anything constructive about it when it happened.

I can't believe we need someone to tell us that we should put out the flames of a burning house when we have a fire engine to do so; that it's wrong to picket a funeral with hateful speech; that it's wrong to kill animals for the fun of it all; that it's wrong to spend more tax dollars locking up kids than educating them and giving the opportunity to succeed; that it's wrong to let kids bully others for being different.

This isn't about conservative vs. progressive. It's about decency. Plain and simple.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I totally agree with you about all these aberrations, or what USED to be aberrations until they kind of became the norm. And I disagree with those who would make political issues of everything. Neither party has a monopoly on decency, and hiding behind political banners does not excuse people from failing to do what is right by any standard.

Charlene said...

There were two wrongs committed here; the homeowner didn't pay his fair share [he said he forgot] and the fire department didn't help a family with the services they exist to provide.

My Mom, who was always right! told me two wrongs don't make a right.

Doing the right thing is not always the strictly legal thing.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Humanity will always trump rules for me. Thank you for your visit!

BroLo said...

I usually agree with you, Hearts, but this time I'm not so sure. I asked myself why the residents outside the city limits didn't automatically pay a tax to have fire protection, as happens in most areas, even rural areas. Is it possible that the good people of that county didn't want "big government" telling them what kind of protections they needed? Maybe they voted for a "voluntary" fire protection tax. If that is the case, I am sorry that someone lost their house and some animals suffered, but I won't blame the city. Maybe they should rewrite the law to allow people to pay $75 in advance or $7,500 after the fact, but there is no guarantee that people would accept such a law.