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Pay for spray in South Fulton, Tennessee could be changed today. Town is voting on putting out the fire & billing later.

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Click here & scroll down for our previous coverage of the subscription fire service in South Fulton & Obion County

There is quite an interesting development in South Fulton, Tennessee. South Fulton is the city that became the poster child for “pay for spray” after firefighters refused to extinguish two house fires because the residents across the line in unincorporated Obion County hadn’t paid their annual subscription fee. After the first incident in October 2010, and others who hate to see firefighters put in that no-win situation strongly urged that if you had to have a subscription fire department it was much better to have a policy of putting out the fire and then sending a substantial bill to the homeowner. No matter how negligent a homeowner may be, it’s the firefighters who end looking bad when they show up and do nothing.’s Rhett Fleitz insisted that I was on the wrong side of this one and strongly argued that it was okay in this case for firefighters to let a home burn. He wrote that the system operated as it should.

Now word comes from the Wall Street Journal that the leaders of South Fulton are considering a significant change that should avoid the publicity that brought the city and its fire department scorn from around the world. This policy change, expected to be voted on today, sounds very familiar (are you listening Rhett?):

Firefighters in South Fulton, Tenn., have let two homes burn to the ground over the past two years since the city commission started enforcing a rule that the department serve only subscribers who pay the $75 annual fee. The city commission is expected to vote Thursday whether to amend that policy to allow the fire department to put out all blazes and then bill nonsubscribers $3,500 for the service. Paying members wouldn’t be billed. 

South Fulton Mayor David Crocker didn’t respond to requests for comment. The town’s fire chief, David Wilds, when asked how the crew reacted as it watched a home burn down, said: “They didn’t like it.”

Let’s hope that the city commission votes in favor of the change and their firefighters aren’t ever again forced to watch someone lose their property without lifting a hose. And before Rhett starts rewriting history about who wrote what back in 2010, here’s his original column and here’s mine.

The news from South Fulton is part of a report that takes a look at the reasons behind subscription fire services. The article, by Timothy W. Martin, also looks at Bell County, Kentucky where a voluntary subscription service was recently started. It’s worth your time to read the entire article.

Read Wall Street Journal article on subscription fire services

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Joseph Schmoe

    South Fulton can’t take the heat and caves under the scrutiny. They will likely never collect a dime in this fashion, it’s a lesson in futility.

    Meanwhile, the folks that run Obion county continue to neglect their citizens and allow the those of South Fulton to subsidize fire protection for the people they ignore. They are the real villains here.

    What a screwed up system, I’m surprised the residents of South Fulton will stand for it.

    • RJ (in florida)

      i wonder how it is with law enforcement? is that pay per bullet?

  • north chief

    I wonder if the property owner can refuse the service and say let it burn. Could the FD put the fire out against the wishes of the homeowner? And then still bill them? Where do the insurance compnaies stand on this, do they pay the fees?

  • Fat Vollie

    Nah, what will happen is one of three things: the property owner will come up with the money on their own; the property owner will submit a bill to their insurance (unlikely, if they had insurance they’d likely pay the subscription fee); or the city will put a lien on the property for the fee/interest/etc. The long-term effect will be the city getting a lot of county property at a very reduced cost. THAT’s when things will get interesting politically.

  • Legeros

    And somewhere else on the Internet, an animal activist mistypes “pay for SPAY” in Google and wonders how house fires are related to neutering…

  • Sharppointy1

    I don’t understand why Obion County doesn’t just add the subscription fee as a tax. Why wouldn’t that cover the fees for South Fulton?
    Otherwise I like the pay 75$ up from t or 3500$ afterwards concept.

    • http://captain Mark

      The county can’t add a tax without it going to a vote!!!! Then a board has to be formed to oversee the money collected and how it is dispersed. It turns into a pain in the neck. It also takes several years to get it all in place depending on voting schedule. (even vs odd years) So you want us to put out a fire spend money we don’t have, on people that don’t/ won’t pay. Have to close the fire dept because there isn’t enough paying people to subsidize the operation of the fire dept???? Don’t bad mouth the Fire dept UNLESS you have been through it personally. As a Fire fighter it tears me up inside to see this. BUT if we keep putting out fires outside our area for people who don’t pay soon we will not put out ANY fire because we won’t be in service due to lack of money. Sorry but it;s a cold hard fact.

  • Ted

    Well, I guess this is a bit of an improvement. But really, just fix the real issue and provide universal fire service in the County, funded by a fire tax. Geez!

  • Fire Critic

    And if they change the system hopefully they can begin responding and putting out fires like the rest of the Country.

    In the past they have followed policy. I am sure they won’t have a hard time with new policy that brings them to the 21st Century.

    Unfortunately, Dave Statter is a proponent of them breaking command, policy, and the leadership of their City leaders and doing whatever they want at any given time. That also doesn’t work anywhere.

    Dave, put whatever spin on it you want. I am still right. Remember you stated that when this first happened. I have a soundbite if you need it!

    • dave statter

      As you know Rhett (but somehow you keep forgetting) I never said for individual firefighters to break rank and not follow orders. What I said is for the fire department to put the damn fire out and that if they didn’t they would continue to cause themselves (and the fire service) enormous problems.

      Look at what South Fulton FD has gone through. Was it worth it? Apparently not. The city leaders kicked and screamed for 18 months but finally they are showing signs that maybe they should have never put their department in that position in the first place.

      My opinion and what I wrote about this story in October of 2010 and in many posts since is still the same. Yours is the one that has “evolved”. And that is okay.

      It is important to grow, reassess and change your opinion when confronted with reasonable arguments from others. I admire you for that. But it also helps, instead of trying to backpedal and cover up. to admit you had an error in judgment, explain how and why you have modified your position and then move on (and maybe even say something like “Dave you were right and I was wrong”).

      By the way, aren’t you in danger of being considered a “troll” by posting a comment here?


      • Fire Critic

        No, I am not a troll for commenting.

        I kinda thought you would pick up on it by now, but you continue to call all of your readers trolls which is very unbecoming.

        A troll on here is someone who makes no sense, rarely uses proper grammar, and doesn’t add anything to the conversation. You used to have many of them. Now, they only come out occasionally.

        Read more here:

        As for my stance…I have had the same stance on the situation since the beginning. It is a broke system, but I can’t blame the firefighters (yet you continue to). They are not allowed to put out fires of non-subscribers. If the City/County fixed the problem it would alleviate itself.

        I do enjoy how you continue to put spin on my words, misquote me, and all-around make things up though!

        • dave statter

          We have a position open for Chief Troll if you would like to be considered for the job. Your posts coupled with the Internet related definition shows me there may be no one better suited to take on this task. And you fit the other definition of a troll too which I believe includes “slow witted” and “short” in the description.

          I know it would be un-troll like for you, but it is okay to just say you were wrong in jusitfying firefighters sitting by doing nothing and that things went as they were supposed to. It’s okay.


  • Scott Matheson

    Most volunteer fire departments are funded through town taxes in my area of northern NH, and I have volunteered for over 20 years. We do have two very small towns that have no fire or police and they contract the service out to surrounding towns every year. If I lived in an area that had no fire protection of it’s own and I had to pay a small fee every year to receive fire protection, as a responsible home owner I would pay. Nobody should expect to get anything for free, even volunteers need an income. How do you pay for fuel, equipment, and training without some type of income? You use a subscription service, which is how the fire service started in the first place. It is sad that they lost their homes, but it was the homeowners choice not to pay $75 a year. That is the point everyone is missing, the service is offered for a SMALL fee and they chose not to take advantage of it. It is time people take responsibility for their own actions and not shift the blame elsewhere.

    • dave statter


      Yes, we all know the homeowner should have paid. We all know that homeowners also shouldn’t do a lot of stupid things that cause fires. Yes, we should all take personal responsibility.

      But we don’t and that’s one of the reasons why fire departments are in business.

      Is your department or local government run so perfectly that you would rely on everything they tell you as compeletely accurate? I, for one, wouldn’t want to be in a position to trust that any government entity was 100 percent right with its information and database. Would you? What happens if the information provided to firefighters about who did and who didn’t pay is wrong?

      All I have said from the start is don’t put firefighters in the position of showing up and sitting on their thumbs. Don’t force them to make these calls over who gets service and who doesn’t. It is bad for the local fire department and bad for the fire service in general (which right now has enough image problems).


  • RJ (in florida)

    i took the liberty of looking at the video before commenting and in the Q&A the chief said that he has to follow the rules the county has when it comes to firefighting. i wonder why the “volunteer” fire department has to follow rules set down by the county government if its the FD that is collecting thr money? it would seem that the residents of the area are ok with the current setup because all of the bitchin is comming from the outside via the media coverage. i think as long as the residents are ok with it, the’re gonna keep it like it is and either you pay the 75 or your hiuse burns but like the chief said, the family made the descision not to pay….(but the keyboard lawyer side of me asks), if you subscribe it would seem that i would be able to hold the responding FD accountable to respond in a timely manor and extingush the fire as efficiently as possible (which we all know sometimes dont happen) so wouldnt that expose the VFD to liability for claims of not getting what you paid for?

  • Vol. Firefighter

    There must be a means to pay for fire protection, if the service is to be provided. $175,000 pumpers are not free.

    While no one wants anyones house to burn, those property owner are at fault. They have the opportunity to into a formal fire protection arrangment. Either they pay the $75.00 fee or push to have a county fire protection arrangment.

    If property owners do not want to pay the $75.00 fee, then whose fault is that??? I know of some cities that just gave up and refuse to send city fire apparatus outside city limits. The rural residents have a chance to obtain fire protection but loathe. Do not blame the fire department, but instead blame the rural property owners.

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