Rural Tennessee fire sparks conservative ideological debate

Pamela - posted on 10/05/2010 ( 35 moms have responded )

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Just about anything can be fodder for an ideological dispute these days. Just consider news of the recent fire at Gene Cranick's home in Obion County, Tenn.

Here's the short version of what happened: In rural Obion County, homeowners must pay $75 annually for fire protection services from the nearby city of South Fulton. If they don't pay the fee and their home catches fire, tough luck -- even if firefighters are positioned just outside the home with hoses at the ready.

Gene Cranick found this out the hard way.

When Cranick's house caught fire last week, and he couldn't contain the blaze with garden hoses, he called 911. During the emergency call, he offered to pay all expenses related to the Fire Department's defense of his home, but the South Fulton firefighters refused to do anything.
They did, however, come out when Cranick's neighbor -- who'd already paid the fee -- called 911 because he worried that the fire might spread to his property. Once they arrived, members of the South Fulton department stood by and watched Cranick's home burn; they sprang into action only when the fire reached the neighbor's property.

"I hadn't paid my $75 and that's what they want, $75, and they don't care how much it burned down," Gene Cranick told WPSD, an NBC affiliate in Kentucky. "I thought they'd come out and put it out, even if you hadn't paid your $75, but I was wrong."

The incident has sparked a debate in many corners of the Web. Writers for the National Review, arguably the nation's most influential right-leaning voice, have seized on the episode to discuss the relative merits of compassionate conservatism versus a hard-line libertarianism.

Daniel Foster, a self-described "conservative with fairly libertarian leanings" who writes for the magazine, took issue with the county's laissez-faire approach to firefighting, calling it "a kind of government for which I would not sign up."
"What moral theory allows these firefighters (admittedly acting under orders) to watch this house burn to the ground when 1) they have already responded to the scene; 2) they have the means to stop it ready at hand; 3) they have a reasonable expectation to be compensated for their trouble?" Foster wrote.

But Foster's colleague Kevin Williamson took the opposite view. Cranick's fellow residents in the rural stretches of Obion County had no fire protection until the county established the $75 fee in 1990. As Williamson explained: "The South Fulton fire department is being treated as though it has done something wrong, rather than having gone out of its way to make services available to people who did not have them before. The world is full of jerks, freeloaders, and ingrates — and the problems they create for themselves are their own. These free-riders have no more right to South Fulton's firefighting services than people in Muleshoe, Texas, have to those of NYPD detectives."

Liberals are pouncing on the Cranick fire as an illustration of what they take to be the callous indifference of a market regime that rewards privileged interests over the concerns of ordinary Americans.

"The case perfectly demonstrated conservative ideology, which is based around the idea of the on-your-own society and informs a policy agenda that primarily serves the well-off and privileged," Think Progress' Zaid Jilani wrote in a response to the National Review writers. "It has been 28 years since conservative historian Doug Wead first coined the term 'compassionate conservative.' It now appears that if any such philosophy ever existed, it has few adherents in the modern conservative movement.

So what do you ladies think? This guy didn't pay for the fire department service (a $75 fee) and so when his house caught fire, the firemen let it burn. Do you agree with Think Progress in that this is an example of "on-your-own society"?

Or do you agree with Williamson's sentiments, "The South Fulton fire department is being treated as though it has done something wrong, rather than having gone out of its way to make services available to people who did not have them before. The world is full of jerks, freeloaders, and ingrates — and the problems they create for themselves are their own".

Does this bode well for our country? Or not?

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?? - posted on 10/08/2010

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I highly doubt that everyone would stop paying the fee because the firefighters made an exception this time, there's no saying they would do it again. I think people would be more diligent to make sure they pay the fee and educate themselves even further to make sure they will always have whatever they need in place so that they would never have to fight with a fire department to help them or watch their houses burn down.



The guy had paid in previous years, but for whatever reason forgot to this year. He was offering to pay at the time. It wasn't like this guy had never paid ever and they had no reason to think he was scamming the shit out of the county.



Personally, I would never be able to trust any fireman or fire station that would let a persons house burn down while standing there watching, for any reason. I wouldn't want those firefighters working in my neighborhood, ever.



Firefighters here are first response. I would never be comfortable knowing that the people that are responsible for saving my family, my pets, my house and all my belongings let some family's house burn down over a $75 fee.





I talked to my FIL, my friends husband and a buddy that my guy works with - all of them are volunteer fire fighters in this area. My friends husband is now a career fireman, my FIL is still volunteer and my guys buddy from work was recently promoted to Captain of the volunteer fire department (his father and grandpa are both career firemen). I asked them what they would do in this situation. All 3 of them said they would have put out the fire anyways. They would have taken off their uniform and stepped up as citizens to help the guy save his house. I asked them how would they do that without the equipment available, and they all said they're trained to deal with that anyways. They would still have fought their asses off to do what they could have - including breaking open a fire hydrant and organizing makeshift tools to do what they could. They're all family men and they said they couldn't imagine being responsible for a family losing everything when they had every means available to stop it from happening.

Isobel - posted on 10/07/2010

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It's just a stupid way to collect money for the fire department. It SHOULD come out of your taxes...because libertarianism leads to inhuman acts like watching a family's home burn to the ground while having the ability to stop it.

Pamela - posted on 10/07/2010

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Last week, an accident inside Gene Cranick's Obion, TN home started a fire. As the fire quickly spread throughout the house, the Cranicks escaped from their home and called their fire department.



Yet the local firefighters, operating under the auspices of the South Fulton Fire Department (SFFD), refused to respond to the call, noting that their service was available to the rural residents of Obion County only by subscription, and the Cranicks had not paid the annual $75 fee.



When the fire spread to the surrounding properties, the neighbors -- who had paid the fee -- called the firefighters. And so, the firefighters arrived on the scene, but they stood by and watched as the Cranick residence burned to the ground, refusing to assist the pleading family -- which offered to pay them anything on the spot to help.



Even though most of the country was outraged by the case of the Cranicks, leading conservatives in the media immediately jumped at the chance to defend the actions of the SFFD and condemn the family in question.



The story of Gene Cranick's home illustrates the ascendancy of a compassion-less conservative philosophy that believes in the on-your-own society and has virtually abandoned the common-good creed that we are our brothers keepers.



As firefighters stood by idly watching, the fire that consumed the Cranick's family home also took the lives of their four pets.



The Obion County policy of using subscription-only firefighting originated in 1990, but it has a parallel to the 19th century, when it was common for Americans to have to purchase private firefighter insurance or risk their homes being burned down without any hope of preventing it.



In 2008, the county's fire department along with the conservative county commission reviewed the policy and determined that it would continue to offer fire services to rural parts of the county via subscription to the SFFD, rejecting a paltry 0.13 percent increase in property taxes on households to fund a proper fire service that would respond to all calls.



When a local news station asked Mayor David Crocker how he could justify the firefighters' refusal to help the Cranicks, he told them that the policy was just like buying auto insurance from a private insurance company, and that they wouldn't "expect an insurance company to pay for an unprotected vehicle after it wrecked."



Despite widespread outrage over the event, the county commission's budget committee met Monday night and decided to expand the subscription-only fire service to even more towns. Union City Fire Department Chief Kelly Edmison objected to the new expansion, saying that "the best option is a true fire tax. It eliminates this having 911 or whatever check to say, 'Are they covered or not covered?' The last thing a firefighter wants to do is to not be able to help when they'd like to."



It didn't take long for leading conservatives to leap to the defense of Obion County and the SFFD. After the National Review's Daniel Foster wrote that he saw "no moral theory" that would justify the actions of the firefighters, his fellow writers immediately attacked him. "Dan, you are 100 percent wrong," wrote Kevin Williamson. "The world is full of jerks, freeloaders, and ingrates -- and the problems they create for themselves are their own. These free-riders [referring to the Cranicks] have no more right to South Fulton's firefighting services than people in Muleshoe, Texas, have to those of NYPD detectives."



Next, Jonah Goldberg, while admitting that the story is "sad," said it would probably "save more houses over the long haul" because it would incentivize homeowners to subscribe to the fire service in the future. Conservative writer John Derbyshire joined in by saying he was "entirely with the South Fulton fire department," explaining that the policy was fostering personal responsibility.



The American Family Association's Brian Fischer even went as far as to say that the "fire department did the right and Christian thing. ... Critics of the fire department are confused both about right and wrong and about Christianity. And it is because they have fallen prey to a weakened, feminized version of Christianity that is only about softer virtues such as compassion and not in any part about the muscular Christian values of individual responsibility and accountability."



Leading conservative blog Hot Air, one of the few conservative voices to condemn the actions of the SFFD firefighters, wrote that "95 percent" of the commenters on their blog will likely respond to the story by saying, "Right on, let it burn. A contract's a contract!" MSNBC host Keith Olbermann asked Gene Cranick to respond to conservatives attacking his family and siding with Obion County. Cranick answered, "I respond to those people like this: wait until the shoe is on the other foot."



Unfortunately, the responses by these leading conservatives are far from an aberration. Rather, they are emblematic of a conservative movement that believes in the on-your-own society and has declared war on empathy.



Senate conservatives have repeatedly come together to filibuster the extension of unemployment benefits for jobless Americans who can't find work in the poor economy. Leading conservative and former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein wrote at the right-wing American Spectator that Americans "who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities....who do not know how to do a day's work." Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV) warned that extending unemployment insurance was "creating hobos."



Yet it isn't enough for progressives to simply rebuke conservatives for their lack of empathy. They must proudly embrace an alternative vision: one of an America that is just and fair in its actions at home and abroad, in the renewed spirit of the American Dream. (Think Progress)



So really???? This is the conservative vision for America? Going back to the 1800's replete with robber barons and child labor? I mean really? You want this for our country? Because that's what you're going get and it will be a cold hard place to live. But hey! It's great for corporations and the like.



What is expressed in this article from Think Progress, pretty much lays out quite nicely why I am no longer a conservative. Fiscal responsibility is one thing and I'm all for that. But cold-heartedness and disregard for people in need is not my cup of tea.

Isobel - posted on 10/08/2010

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Believe it or not...gonna side with Christa on that one...I wouldn't pay a yearly 'just in case' fee if I knew I could just pay after the fact...although...they also could've accepted the thousands that were offered...or sent him a bill.

Kelly - posted on 10/07/2010

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Kate, not quite sure where the hostility is coming from but WHATEVER.....

Did you read your own link? Because as of 2008 the COUNTY didn't have an operational Fire Dept. (It exists on paper, but is unmanned, unfunded, and not operational.) The only possible conclusion to arrive at, since it was the South Fulton Fire Dept. that responded and not the Obion County Fire Dept, is that this is still the case. So while the COUNTY may have received Federal money for rural fire protection, the Town of South Fulton did not. Perhaps the County should use the money they received to establish an actual fire dept. to serve the county residents.

Your own "snippet" stated that the Municipal Fire Depts. are solely funded by the tax dollars
belonging to each individual town or city. Since this guy doesn't reside in the municipality, HE IS NOT PAYING TAXES TOWARDS FIRE SERVICE. This would be the reason he would have to pay the subscription fee in order to be covered under the agreement between the municipalities and the county residents. Why is that so hard for some to comprehend? It doesn't take a brain trust to figure out that if you don't live inside the city limits you are not paying city taxes. And you conveniently edited another part of the document, so here it is in full: "All fire departments in Obion County charge a $500.00 fee per call in rural areas, but collections are, less than 50% and the fire departments have no way of legally collecting the charge. Therefore, the service was provided at the expense of the municipal tax payer." So how is that in any way shape or form fair to those that pay municipal taxes? They could very well see a tax increase if the municipality is always responding to rural fires without compensation. This man, and his neighbors in Obion County KNOW that the county doesn't have a fire department. If having fire responders of their own is a priority, then they need to push the County to get a dept up and operational. Until then, the neighboring municipalities are offering as a kindness, their services for a fee. If you don't pay the fee, you don't get the service.

Oh, and here is another "snippet" from your link to make that point: "The municipal fire departments which utilize a subscription service are not bound to and do not respond to fires on rural properties which do not have a subscription for fire service. The only rural property owners guaranteed to receive fire protection services are those who choose to pay for it."

Kate, you posted a great link. It has a ton of good and accurate information in it. Hopefully everyone will read the document for themselves. If you do, you will see the problems in Obion County as far as service goes, the ideas they had to raise the necessary funding, and the fact that it is policy for South Fulton to NOT respond when a subscription fee has not been paid. Instead of listening with your bleeding hearts, try listening with your heads. The entire county population is less than 20,000 people. (only about 13,000 in the 2000 census) The tax base in not a big one, and the funding just isn't there. Going off of 2000 census numbers, the town of South Fulton had just over 2500 residents. THEY are the ones that pay the town taxes to support their fire department. The population living in the rural areas is close to 14,000 people. How does it make sense that 2500 people can absorb the costs for providing services to a portion of the 14,000 that don't pay anything????

As far as the family pets are concerned, the family started the fire in a barrel. It took 2 hours for the fire to get to the house. They had plenty of time to remove their own pets. Instead of arguing with the fire dept, they should have gotten their pets out of the house if they meant so much to them. As far as the fire dept. "letting" the pets burn with the house, common policy anywhere is to not risk human lives (the firemen) to save animal lives.

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Pamela - posted on 10/08/2010

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Yeah but still (it's safe now Christa - I'm calmer now:o). The idea of having to pay a yearly fee really boggles my mind. Especially for something like this. Though I get what you're saying. I just think it's wrong - letting this family's house burn because of a stupid $75 fee. Bill the family but don't let the house burn.

Christa - posted on 10/08/2010

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Pamela simmer down, :) I've already said I believe fire departments should be handled by our taxes. In this situation though they had it set up like an insurance company. That's what this discussion should be about is how can they fix it so the fire department is funded like all others so something like this won't happen in that area again.

Isobel - posted on 10/08/2010

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and that's the problem with libertarianism in general...it causes INHUMAN acts of apathy.

Pamela - posted on 10/08/2010

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Yeah but why Christa do we want to treat fire departments to function like insurance companies? Really? That's why we pay property taxes: it's part of an infrastructure within a community. Really? As screwed up as insurance companies are, you want that for fire departments? And why not do that with say, police protection? Or roads? This isn't BAILING someone out. God anyhow. Are you really serious?

Christa - posted on 10/08/2010

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Kate, if they had allowed him to pay then and then put out his fire, why would anyone in that whole community pay the 75 fee again? If you knew you didn't have to pay a dime and if something happened you could pay them then, most people would probably not pay anything unless they had to. The company would go out of business and then who would put out any fires in that area? It's like any other insurance, you have to pay the premiums to be covered. You can't not have health insurance and then when you have a heart attack go to you previous company and say I'll pay you those premiums now if you'll pay for my hospital bills. They would hang up on you. Sometimes in life you must live with the consequences of your decisions. That is the problem with this country is people EXPECT to be bailed out of every bad choice. Well eventually there is no one left to bail you out, then what?

Kate CP - posted on 10/07/2010

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I know that it's been said over and over that had humans been in the home they would have stepped in. I said when it comes to lives being saved-human or otherwise.

I did read the link. And I've seen the press conferences with the mayor and the fire officials. The man and his neighbors were offering thousands of dollars with checkbooks in hand to get the fire department to put out the fire. In the document it states that a $500.00 fee is charged for rural calls but is rarely collected so a $75.00 yearly fee is applied if you want to receive service. The firemen COULD HAVE taken the $500.00 fee and put out the fire then and there and THEN charged the man for a yearly subscription fee later on. They chose not to. They chose instead to let it burn to the ground and only help the man who had a paid service subscription as a "lesson" to those who don't pay for service. You are right that only municipal residents provide the taxes that pay for the fire department and I had read the article wrong.

The document also states that because Obion County hasn't made their fire department operational they are not eligible to receive federal grants from FEMA for catastrophic events OR to pay for much needed upgrades and equipment for the already established city and town departments residing within the county. Obion county has seriously dropped the ball here.

Kelly - posted on 10/07/2010

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Oh come on now. It has already been said over and over that they would not have refused to save people if they had been trapped in the house. As far as the animals go, their own owners didn't care about them enough to remove them before the fire reached the house. I love my dog dearly, but I would not after a certain extent risk my life to save his and deny my children a mother.

That is very admirable of you to be willing to pay higher taxes to provide for someone else. Maybe you should offer to pay this man's annual $75 fee from now on? I think it is wrong to automatically presume that others are willing to pick up the tab. This is a very different situation than refusing to help someone stranded on the side of the road, or hurt in an accident.

Kate CP - posted on 10/07/2010

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I would much rather lead with my heart than my head when it comes to lives being saved-human or otherwise. I would also be willing to pay a higher tax to provide fire protection to those that don't have it. I think it's cruel to deny some one help just because they didn't pay you.

Isobel - posted on 10/07/2010

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I think I agreed that they were only doing their job...I just think it was a STUPID system and needs to be fixed.

Kelly - posted on 10/07/2010

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Laura, the point you are missing is that he doesn't live in any town, he lives in the county. The problem is that the county doesn't have a functioning fire dept. and cannot provide any services to its residents. The towns that do have fire depts have agreed to offer services, some of them FOR A FEE.

Pamela, glad we could agree on something :) From what I read in Kate's link, in 2008 they felt they needed a budget of $550,000 a year to operate a fire dept. Perhaps they are saving their money and depending on more federal money next year to add to the kitty?

Pamela - posted on 10/07/2010

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"Perhaps the County should use the money they received to establish an actual fire dept. to serve the county residents".

Yes! Kelly! We agree!!

Isobel - posted on 10/07/2010

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so the town that he lived in should've taxed the people who live in it enough to cover the fire department...then sent the portion FOR the fire department to the town that owned it.

Christa - posted on 10/07/2010

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Well said Kelly!! I concur. :)

I also do agree with you Laura, I do believe this is one thing that should be covered by our taxes so something like this doesn't happen. Although it does seem like this little town is sort of an unusual zoning situation.

Kelly - posted on 10/07/2010

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The fire Chief stated (I can't remember where I read the interview) that they would have gone in had HUMAN lives been at risk. So, yes I believe they would have. Animals sadly don't count equally when you are comparing them to a human life.

Isobel - posted on 10/07/2010

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I don't think anybody's arguing whether or not they had a RIGHT to stand by and watch it burn...in fact it was their job...and that's terribly sad. period.

I WOULD be curious though, whether they would have fought the fire to get people out

Pamela - posted on 10/07/2010

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And letting the family pets burn down with the house. There's some compassion for you...

Kate CP - posted on 10/07/2010

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Nope. Read the report for yourself. Its only from 2008 so it's relatively recent; but I couldn't find the page I had used that listed the federal grant info. :/

Kate CP - posted on 10/07/2010

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And here it is, folks! Straight from Obion County in 2008...A presentation regarding the establishment and implementation of a county-wide fire department.

http://troy.troytn.com/Obion%20County%20...

Some snippets for you:

Purpose:
To formally establish a county-wide fire department which will provide quality fire protection
and emergency response to all areas of Obion County in a timely manner **with no
subscription fees or requirements for response.**

Statistics indicate that the majority of all fire calls are rural in nature and are responded to
by municipal fire departments. **These departments are solely funded by the tax dollars
belonging to each individual town or city.** It is becoming more difficult to convince municipal
leaders that the municipal fire departments responding to calls outside the municipal
boundaries and for which no compensation is guaranteed is “just the right thing to do”.

**All municipal fire departments charge $500.00 to the property owners or their insurance
company when dispatched to a fire.** Most departments collect less than 50% of these
charges.

So on top of the $75 residents have to pay annually, they are also charged $500.00 every time the department comes out (although the department isn't always able to collect all of the fees). This entire case is just wrong.

Kate CP - posted on 10/07/2010

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I got my info from the county posting online where and when and how much it received from local taxes and federal grants for fire protection services. I'll see if I can find the links again...

Pamela - posted on 10/07/2010

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Yeah I always thought that was one of the reasons I paid property taxes...

Pamela - posted on 10/07/2010

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Nice.



It's bad enough that this fellow's house burnt down, but let's mock him too. Oh yeah.

Kelly and Kate, this isn't a challenge, I'm just curious where you both got your info regarding the tax issue. Because he has to be paying property taxes to somebody. And Kelly, what about Kate's point regarding the county receiving over $185,000 for rural fire protection?

Kate CP - posted on 10/06/2010

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First of all, the only person to pull the religion card was YOU. Second of all, this is a county we're talking about not a HOA that was absorbed into a local city so I have absolutely no idea why that's even relevant in this instance. Thirdly, yes, the county received a federal grant in 2009 for over $185,000 JUST FOR rural fire protection. In 2005 the county only had $6,000 for local fire protection. That's not CITY that's COUNTY. If anything, this is an argument for why city and county taxes are important and WHY taxes should be an everyday part of life. I hate paying taxes as much as the next person, but when my house gets robbed or catches fire I want to be able to call 911 and have some one show up and do something about it.

Kelly - posted on 10/06/2010

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I disagree Kate. He did not pay taxes to the town that HAS the fire department. This man knew he needed to pay the $75 annual fee to have the protection out in the county. He has paid the fee in years past. Whether he just forgot to this year, or blew it off, who knows. I don't agree with the "on your own society that primarily serves the well-off and privileged" argument at all. They have gone out of their way to make the service available to people that would otherwise not have any. The fact that they have made it quite affordable is also commendable. People who pay the fee have to budget $6.25 a month for the fire department's protection. I wouldn't say that is unattainable by anyone poor or otherwise. If you own a home, chances are you can come up with $6 a month, even on unemployment.

The analogy that makes the most sense to me is comparing it to insurance. You wouldn't NOT pay your premium and then still expect your insurance company to take care of your property if you were in an accident. You couldn't get in a car accident, call your insurance up and tell them you will now pay the premium so they will fix your car. It just doesn't work that way. If this man didn't pay his homeowners premium, he isn't going to be compensated for his loss. Would that outrage you as well?

He very well may have offered to pay when he called 911, but realistically, he hadn't even paid the $75. Why would they even THINK they would be able to recover thousands? It may sound cold, but that is just the way it is. Obviously, if there were people inside, they would have gone in and saved them. The fire chief confirmed this. But to protect PROPERTY is completely different.

As far as Federal funding, you really have no idea what the stipulations were on that money. I will bet it wasn't to cover for people who failed to pay for their service. I worked for a homeowners association for a while in an area that later incorporated into a town. The town was eligible for all sorts of federal funding. The association, as a private business was not. The water supply system was in dire need of repair and updating and it was owned by the association. Legally, the town could not give any money to the association to fix up the water system. They ended up spending their federal money on beautification projects. In order to get the water pipes updated, the association was looking at significantly higher dues to the members. They ended up "selling" the water system to the town so that they could get federal and state money to help pay for it. (My point is, sometimes the obvious isn't so obvious and unless you know the details it just isn't going to make sense)

I would see a problem if they stood by and watched people burn up in that house. Obviously that would be a BIG problem. Of course that didn't happen. But to compare a supposed "lack of compassion" or whatever the point was to conservative ideology is not accurate. Conservatives don't have a problem with providing a service to all. But everyone has to be willing to chip in their share. The world is full of freeloaders, and pretty soon the freeloaders are going to outnumber those that pay into the pot. As it stands we are already at a point where only 50% of Americans pay any income taxes. If you can't be persuaded to get off your butt and help yourself at all, (in this case paying the $75 annual fee) why should I be inclined to help you?

(And please, don't pull the religion card here, this is a strictly business article)

Kate CP - posted on 10/06/2010

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Actually, the county received over $185,000 in 2009 alone for rural fire protection service from federal funding. Also, if this man paid property, sales, or any other local or federal taxes he already paid for fire protection. This $75 fee is a crock.

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