Fire Fighting in Obion County, Unethical Community of the Year

In Obion County, Tennessee, a man’s home burned to the ground as the local fire department refused to do anything about it. The homeowner, Gene Cranick, had refused to pay a County fee for fire control services from the neighboring city of South Fulton. It was understood that only homeowners paying the fee would be provided assistance by the fire department, but Cranick, the sly fox, decided to test the system. Not only did he start burning rubbish in his back yard, he let the fire spread to his home. Then, in a panic, he dialed 911 and offered to pay whatever it would take for the South Fulton firefighters to put out the flames…but was told it was too late.  They wouldn’t do anything to stop his house from burning down. They did arrive to help put out the fire when it spread to Cranick’s neighbor’s home, but then he had paid the $75.

This story makes neither ethical nor logical sense. To begin with, Cranick is a fool, an unethical fool, and a cheap unethical fool. “I thought they’d come out and put it out, even if you hadn’t paid your $75, but I was wrong,” he said as a sifted through the ashes. I see. He decided to stiff the firefighters and the city of South Fulton, and take the service anyway. This is cosmic justice for Gene Cranick, if indeed he refused to pay. (In a televised interview, Cranick disputed this, and said he forgot.)

Either way, nobody deserves to have his house burn down.

The fire department was equally wrong, and maybe more so. A community’s citizens would join together and voluntarily help a neighbor save a neighbor’s home, but these trained, professional firefighters wouldn’t because of a lousy $75 bucks? Where is their kindness, where is their humanity? So they put out the fire and send a whopping bill for services later…is that really so hard to figure out? Would the South Fulton police department watch home invaders rape and kill a family that didn’t pay its police bill? Would a South Fulton lifeguard sit by and watch Cranick’s child drown? Would a South Fulton doctor shout taunts at Gene while he slowly died of a heart attack? Apparently so! “Anybody that’s not in the city of South Fulton, it’s a service we offer, either they accept it or they don’t,” South Fulton Mayor David Crocker said.  Where is this city…Hell?

The system is so stupid as to be per se unethical. What kind of service was the fire department providing to Cranick’s fee-paying neighbor, whose property caught fire because the Mayor wanted to punish Cheap Gene? There is a reason why most municipalities abandoned private fire fighting companies more than a century ago: it doesn’t work. That lesson was learned the hard way; how did Obion County miss it? Aren’t there history books in Hell?

An irresponsible system; a cheap and irresponsible victim; a heartless and cruel bureaucrat commanding professionals who never heard of the Golden Rule, citizenship, or the duty to rescue:

Welcome to Obion County…unethical community of the year!

34 thoughts on “Fire Fighting in Obion County, Unethical Community of the Year

  1. This is how most volunteer fire companies work. I have lived in numerous communities served by volunteer fire services and this is how it always worked. They will come if your house is on fire, but they will not put it out if you haven’t paid your dues. They will stop it from spreading to your dues-paying neighbors however. Your homeowner’s insurance may not cover it either, since you failed to pay for fire department coverage.

    This is actually pretty common in the US. It is pretty much the rule for rural areas.

    • My limited research suggests that it is very rare for the company to let a house burn down. I’d love to see how common it is 1) to require individuals to subscribe to fire departments and 2) for fire departments to let homes. pets and people be endangered because of an unpaid fee.

        • I will say that, if I were a firefighter and this happened, even if my superior told me not to, I’d attempt to put out the fire and say “we’ll get the money out of him later!” That way, either they’d come to our senses, or they’d try to stop me and then they could say they actually STOPPED me from putting out the fire (which isn’t as neutral-sounding as “doing nothing”).

      • I would like to start off by saying, I hope when you are 60 years old and are suffering from a heart attack that you call 911 and noone shows up. Let me inform you that when you do that you know who comes first, The fire and rescue. Also know as First Responders, we are called out befor anyone else why cause we get there faster and are able to perform our jobs ! WHY ! because we don’t just sit on our butts like the myth that the public has assumed. We are constantly training and continuing our education as to what our jobs require. Thank you and God Bless you

      • [An uncivil expression of contempt…] Seriously. Firefighting is hard work. A large majority of firefighter deaths are from overexertion and stress.

    • It is not common. I have served on a volunteer firefighters brigade and we would NEVER let anyone lose their house. This is an entirely different scenario. These people were not volunteer firefighters. In fact, I would hesitate to call them firefighters at all. More like thugs running a protection racket any gang in America would be proud of. This was beyond despicable. I wouldn’t even call these people human. Hopefully, the people of this city and county understand what a low life they have for a Mayor and unelect him as soon as possible.

    • This is not a popular method and it is not common on VFD. I dont think you know what you are saying. It is NOT the rule for most rural areas. Most of the time a tax is levied for funding of public safety services. We have never just let a house burn. Comment if you know what you are talking about please.

  2. Seems to me that they should have the dues of $75 as a regular course, and if they get called to a non-dues paying member, they get charged and billed accordingly.

    Dues Paying Members:
    Car seat check = FREE
    Cat in a tree = FREE
    A false alarm call = FREE
    House on fire = FREE

    Non-dues Paying Members:
    Car seat check = $25.00
    Cat in a tree = $50.00
    A false alarm call = $75.00
    House on fire = $750.00

    Then at least they can say they continued to offer the service and that the man knew his payment options in advance. Now, if they didn’t respond to his fire because there were other fires happening with dues paying members, I can’t fault them for prioritizing his situation to the end of the line.

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  4. If you watch the video of Olbermann’s interview, you’ll hear Cranick say that he had the same thing happen 3 years ago. That time, the chief (not the same one they have now, as Cranick seems to make a point of) decided they’d fight the fire and let him pay the next day–but Cranick had the fire under control himself by the time they got there. So it seems clear not that Cranick just forgot this one time to pay his fee, but that he has made a conscious decision not to pay the fee year after year, and hope that enough of his neighbors do, so that, along with the South Fulton taxes, there is enough money to keep the fire department going should he need their services in the future.

    I confess I’m having a hard time feeling sorry for this guy. I’m sorry the poor pets died, but why aren’t people criticizing Cranick for not protecting them (and, oh yeah, his family members) by paying the fire service fee? That said, I really do think things like fire protection should be paid for by everyone’s taxes so no one is left out (or harmed by their own stupidity, or that of someone they rely on). Imagine if Cranick were a landlord and hadn’t paid the fee for properties his renters were living in?

    The fire department can’t just operate on air until there’s a fire and someone elects to pay a fee to have it put out. Cranick hasn’t been pulling his full weight as a citizen.

    • I think we have to feel sorry for him, but he tried to play the system, gambled his home and pets for a lousy 75 bucks, and lost. Bet you he pays the fee next year, and doesn’t “forget.”

  5. Since when is having a firefighter come to your house a privilege? Oh yes, in the 19th century, when insurance companies ran fire departments.

    You can go on all you like about Cranick being unethical or stupid or whatever, but those firefighters and their bosses let four animals die in that fire. That seems to trump Cranick’s behaviour by a long way. It makes them no better than murderers, and if anyone’s in for “cosmic justice”, it’s the men who let those animals die a terrifying and painful death. “I was obeying orders” is an old excuse that features in a lot of crimes …

    • And Crasnick bet the lives of his completely dependent pets to get away without paying the 75 dollars. There is no “trumping” in ethics…the fact that the firefighters were, on ethical scale, worse than Crasnick doesn’t make him any better, or remove his own accountability. Stop thinking like that. It excuses all sorts of unethical conduct. The fact that the pets died also doesn’t make what the firemen did (or didn’t do) any more wrong than it already was. You’re confusing the unethical act with the damage it causes. The latter is mostly luck.

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  7. I have lived in 4 states where some of the fire departments worked.
    Not all fire departments are tax-supported. The only way the departments can survive is with such a policy. Without it, no one would pay. Those who had a serious fire probably would be unwilling or unable to pay after the fact if you fought the fire anyway. Then nobody has a fire department when the department folds.

    When I was a teenager, our next door neighbor set his 6 acres on fire. We spent the whole weekend trying to put it out because he did’t pay his dues.

    • Michael—if this happened as frequently as you suggest, why is the media up in arms now about Obion County? Clearly most communities with such an arrangement never let a man’s house burn down. Would they let kid cook, too? You bill him or fine him, that’s all. If he doesn’t pay, you take him to court. If it’s more expensive not to pay the fee than to pay it, most people will pay. The system makes no sense otherwise.

      • We weren’t talking about people, we were talking about property. No, they wouldn’t just watch a child die, but if is just property…

        Everyone where I live now is wondering what the fuss is about. My guess is that all of you have lived in towns and cities your whole lives. You would be amazed at how little government there is when you take that away. The media has no idea what goes on here because they have never lived here.
        I have lived places where:
        • there was no trash pickup and you burned your trash
        • if wild dog packs were killing your livestock (or attacking you or neighbors), the authorities told you to shoot them
        • no police car had been seen in over 10 years
        •if you had trash pickup, you had to go up to the next intersection and down 100 yards to put the trash, next to your mailbox
        •if the road washed out or needed repair, it was up to the residents nearby to arrange and pay for the repair
        • you and your kids had to have alternate arrangements to stay if it was raining because they would’t be able to get to your house for 2-3 days because the only bridge would be underwater
        •people bought military-surplus generators because if the power went out during a storm, it would be weeks to months before they fixed yours. This would happen yearly
        •people had to hide in the fields all night with rifles and shotguns to try to stop cattle rustlers because no law enforcement agency wanted to get involved

        If none of this sounds familiar to you, then this fire system will sound strange.

        Look, when you get outside of an incorporated area, there isn’t much money. The county revenue is property taxes, most of which go to the schools. Cities get their money from sales taxes, but the county doesn’t have one and those areas don’t have the retail businesses that would generate money anyway. The only way to get the money to pay for fire service would be to raise the county tax, but people who live in the towns and cities would vote it down because they wouldn’t want to pay the tax too (and they pay for fire service through their sales taxes). The only option is this fee-based model for many areas. You need to stop thinking about this as a “the government failed to protect this man” because there is no ‘government’ here to protect anyone. You need to think of it as “the community decided to establish and pay for a fire department out of their own pocket, but some decided not to participate”.

        • I respectfully have to disagree with the above. I have lived out of the city limits(in the “boonies”) in several different areas and have never had to pay for fire service. If there was a fire the dept would send a bill to the insurance company, but NEVER to the homeowner. When I was fire chief, we would bill at least $500 per fire to the insurance . We also had a couple fund raisers a year, and applied for every grant that we could. I would like to know if any part of the taxes go to the fire dept? I looked online, but could not find the breakdown of the tax rates. The guys that ride the fire trucks in that county should not even call themselves firemen, they are a disgrace to the profession.

  8. Please don’t beat up the firefighters. They are stuck in a bad position, their board (whether fire district or village) are the ones who most likely created this fee. The chief is bound to enforce this decision and the firefighters are bound to follow orders. Just like in the military, sometimes we have to execute orders we don’t agree with. If they ignore orders they can be disciplined or worse may not be covered oif they get hurt!

    • Beat up, no. They are in a difficult position. But the military requires soldiers to disobey illegal orders, and a firefighter in this position has a difficult but important obligation to refuse to participate in an inhuman and cruel act. Presumably the firefighter would defy authority ordering him to let a family die in such a fire. This is less dire, but dire enough. A firefighter shouldn’t work for an organization that would mandate inhuman conduct—and letting the house burn is inhuman, whether it is contractually justified or not. I see no difference between this and emergency room personnel letting a patient bleed to death on the floor because their insurance isn’t paid up.

      Now Michael is going to write that this happens where he used to live too….

      • I don’t think you get it. If you are in Washington DC, and you call the Baltimore Fire Department, they will not come put out the fire. Why is that not unethical? They would say that we serve the City of Baltimore. Likewise, when you call a city fire department, they will not respond unless you are in their city. Why are these things different? In this case, the city decided to allow people outside the city to subscribe to their service for a fee because that area had NO FIRE DEPARTMENT AT ALL. He decided he didn’t want to do this. The sad thing is, the city will probably stop offering this service. When one of the people outside the city calls 911 about their house being on fire, the dispatcher will say “Sorry, there is no fire service in your area “. Then someone will die unnecessarily because of this jerk and the publicity.

        This is not like the police where there are county sheriffs. You have no right to fire department response. You have no right to ambulance service. If there is no local government that has organized to provide such services through taxes, you must subscribe to them yourself.

        • I am not arguing that anyone has a “Right” to services they don’t pay for. I think Americans and members of a community should be able to count on the assistance of fellow citizens in a crisis, whether trhe victims made a mistake or not. Your point of view supports the nnew Yorkers who walk by bleeding men on the sidewalk. There is a duty to rescue, if you can…and it is reciprocal. You have a right to ignore it. You have a right to be uninvolved in the travails of your fellow human beings, too. It’s just an unethical way to live, that’s all, and nothing to be proud of.

  9. I live in Obion County, South Fulton Tennessee.
    I don’t see how it really matters weather you pay $75 dollars or not. Here in this little town where we don’t even have a gas station or grocery store. We pay taxes out the butt. We pay 30 dollars a year for a city stickers, Plus looking at my water bill as I type. It’s 153.00 dollars. Our taxes get us nothing… Hell they can even put out a fire. I don’t care that it’s outside city limits. It’s the least they can do since they charge so high for everything they are not giving. It was $75 dollars. Gene paid the fee for over 20 years. I believe this is a fee of 1,500 dollars and this is the first time he requested there assistance. I think they were more than paid for there services. It seems to me that if you want to be a firefighter, Policeman, Doctor, or even a nurse. That you just have a duty. Hell to me you have that duty to be human. Come on people you all know this is not right.

    • Speaking as a SFHS alumni living in the rural Obion County, thank you! These media people have no idea who they’re talking about, making bold accusations about our neighbors they’ve never met.

      And the “slippery slope” theory people have been throwing out about the system: It’s not true! The fire department has put out several fires (and, yes, let some burn) on the property of county people who didn’t pay their fees. But people still paid their fees, even after that. And why is it Gene can pay his fees every year to cover other people’s fires, but other people can’t cover for his?

      South Fulton’s in the shitter right now because the previous administration didn’t know how to do their paperwork right, and now the people in the city limits are stuck paying for an overpriced municipal building that was supposed to be subsidized by the state. Stop blaming the populace for the mistakes made by a handful of people!

  10. Let’s not forget, whether the system is right or wrong, he did set his own house on fire, knowing he didn’t pay the fees. He gambled and lost, it’s not like lightning struck his house or someone else set it on fire. HE set his OWN house ON FIRE.

    • Not intentionally. So you would say that an uninsured woman who sliced open her hand while chopping onions should be treated differently than one who was cut by a bottle thrown from a car? I don’t see the distinction. A burning house is a burning house. Yes, he gambled; yes, it was dumb. Never mind: his house should have been saved.

      • Ok if it did get out of control and catch his house unintenionally that’s fine. But if you live in an area with water bills and you don’t pay it, it gets cut off. Same with electricity and gas. So why is it that this guy, who knows he has to pay a fee, gets to skate by? Is anyone going to defend him for intentionally not paying those bills, and want the electric company to feel bad for him?

        • Terrible analogy. You pay the bill, they turn it on, nothing is destroyed, nobody’s life is endangered. You can buy water; you can go to a laundermat. You have to do better than that.

  11. When do we draw the line? When do we make someone in this country take responsibility instead of passing the blame? The Idiot who burns his house down passes the blame onto the fire department, they pass the blame onto the mayor, the mayor passes the blame back onto the idiot who burns down his house. The people here who are blaming the Firefighters are pathetic, they aren’t paid to come out and risk their lives for cats in a burning house and they sure as hell aren’t paid to risk their lives for cats in a burning house that didn’t even have the RESPECT to pay them a measly 75$ fee. I read on one of the posts here that this man had paid the fire fee for 20 years prior. I don’t believe that at all, but even if this was the case, it’s simple. Open and closed, you pay your house doesn’t burn down. You don’t pay, this happens. Stop slinging mud on the public safety officials that would rescue anyone posting on this article including it’s author from certain death, were you in the predicament. You have no right to judge the actions of this department because you don’t live in this county (Minus one person apparently, which i still don’t believe), you aren’t the cheif of the department, and you aren’t a firefighter on this department. If you are, then you can judge.

    • No, I can judge: I judge anyone who stands by and lets a catastrophe occur that they have the ability to prevent and/or mitigate is a coward, a bad citizen, and a despicable human being absent strong proof to the contrary. And I don’t care what the community is, or where. If I was there, I would have tried to help the guy save his home. And you say it’s fine and right for someone who has the skill and equipment to stop it should sit by. Your argumnet makes no sense in civilization. People make mistakes, aand when the mistakes threaten life, limb, family or property, a community without a diseased soul does what it can to help. It’s not “open and closed” at all. 1) It makes no sense for a community to allow a memeber to lose his property due to a disaster if it can prevent it. Communities need members with stable living arrangements. 2) A fire can spread, This one nearly did. It makes sense to put any fire out fast. 3) You (and Michael) talk like housesre breaking into flame very hour. How often could this possibly happen? 4) You pass a law that fines, big time, anyone who doesn’t pay the fee and has to be rescued. Or he’s required to volunteer community service. Anything is better than allowing the house to burn.

      I don’t know what cells die in the brains of people who argue “personal responsibility” to justify a clear-cut example of unnecessary cruelty and callousness. Whatever they are, they need to be replaced before their owners are fit to be neighbors, or call themselves Americans.

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