I am sure most of you have been following the latest incident of a Tennessee fire department letting a home burn because the homeowner didn’t pay the annual subscription fee. In this case in South Fulton an unpaid $75 bill resulted in the fire department watching a house burn to the ground. There has been a lot of reaction to this story, including the following: News coverage across the country (just heard the story again on CBS Radio); A live shot with the homeowner on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown on MSNBC with references to life under the Tea Party (see below); Glenn Beck supports the FD position; The son of the homeowner decking the fire chief (see story above); A harsh statement from IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger; The Fire Critic Rhett Fleitz taking the side of the fire department saying the rules are the rules (please check my critique of The Fire Critic further down).
As a volunteer firefighter in Maryland in the 70s I recall being quite outraged reading the stories, usually from the South, of firefighters watching homes burn because someone wasn’t on the department’s subscription or membership list. I don’t think my outrage is any less more than 35-years-later.
The chiefs who run these subscription based entities, including Union City Fire Chief Kelly Edmison whose department is in Obion County, Tennessee with South Fulton, make the case that they are between a rock and a hard place. Here is what Chief Edmison said to WPSD-TV:
“If somebody is trapped in the house we’re going to go because life safety is number one but we can’t give the service away,” Edmison said. “It’s not South Fulton’s problem. It’s not Union City’s problem. It’s the county’s problem. There is no county fire department.”
“If we just waited to charge when we went out there, you’d be working on a per-call basis,” he said. “With no more calls than there are, the money wouldn’t be there in a sufficient source to buy the equipment you need.”
He and other fire chiefs in Obion County who charge subscription fees for county residents know they’re in a tough spot.
“It’s like car insurance,” Edmison said. “I wish I could wait until I have an accident until I pay my premium on my car insurance, but it doesn’t work that way. So why should the fire service be looked at anything different?”
The self dubbed Fire Critic, Rhett Fleitz, has no sympathy for the homeowner who didn’t pay his bill and he also thinks the fire department is wrongly the fall guy in this one.
This situation is a black eye for the fire service. The fault lies with the homeowners for not paying the $75 fee. However, the public will not view it as such. The media is also jumping on the band wagon…saying that the homeowner is the victim. The only thing that failed here was the homeowner not paying the fee. Everything else operated as it should.
So many people are pointing the finger towards the fire department. Once again, they fail to look at policies. This is bigger than the fire department. If someone wants to change the policies they need to look to the South Fulton City Government.
I don’t know if it’s just a poor choice of words or my good friend Rhett has finally snapped after taking years of abuse about being short. Rhett has me really worried about him when he writes, ”Everything else operated as it should”. Huh?
I am starting to think that carpool I wrote about with Connie Xinos of Oak Brook, Illinois and the two council knuckleheads from Xenia, Ohio who want the firefighters to buy their own gear can now go in the HOV-4 lanes. Connie, give me a call for directions. Rhett will be standing at the curb waiting for you. Thank goodness IronFiremen.com is now aboard FireEMSBlogs.com so we can get something sensible from Roanoke. (BTW Rhett is so threatened about the blog by Willie Wines he put some frontal nudity on The Fire Critic today. I think we know who the real boob is. Desperate people do desperate things.)
Now back to our story. No, Rhett. Everything did not operate as it should. Firefighters put out fires and help people. They should not be put in the position where they can’t do that. And maybe it’s not the South Fulton Government that is necessarily the problem. Maybe Obion County should provide for its people by subsidizing the volunteer fire departments.
If that can’t be done, maybe a better answer to this problem comes from a Tennessee fire company with a similar issue. In the story below, after running into fundraising issues, the Karns VFD, five hours or so to the east of South Fulton, is going to a subscription type department. But it sounds like they are not refusing to respond to anyone’s emergency. They will bill those who aren’t members a pretty substantial fee for putting out a fire.
Far from perfect and still objectionable. But at least this way it won’t bring about video on national television of firefighters looking like they are at a marshmellow roast while someone loses all of their belongings. Let the bill collectors, accountants and courts do what they are supposed to do while firefighters do their jobs. (And Rhett, go do your job, admit you were wrong and apologize to your co-worker Willie for trying to steal his thunder on his opening week.)