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, STATter911.com 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.
FireCritic.com’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.
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