First, the method that the citizens of rural Obion County have in paying for their fire service is not new, not efficient, and probably will not last much longer. “Pay-for-Spray,” or variations on that theme, has been around since before Nero fiddled his flames. Excluding those who do not “opt in” also has a history and is something that should be consigned to those times (more on that in a bit). Regardless of how funds are collected for essential services (and a lot of convenient but non-essential ones as well), there will be a plethora of ways that people will screw it up. This includes mistakes in recording keeping, crediting accounts, and other miscues after the cash has been collected. To err is human and blah, blah, blah. That fact that Mr. Cranick forgot to pay his fee is irrelevant. Systems to remedy delinquencies (late fees, interest, surcharges, liens, fines, penalties, etc.) are S.O.P. in any community except, it seems, in the one outside the city limits of South Fulton TN. Wait a nanosecond, scratch that, I doubt that this is the lone exception. Be that as it may, the monetary aspect of this event has acted as a red herring in too many discussions about what happened.
Second, a member of Mr. Cranick’s family is responsible for starting the fire. The exact person is immaterial and depends on what news or online article is being read as are some of the details of the fire. The most likely scenario seems to be the improper use of a burn barrel leading to the ignition of surrounding one and ten hour fuels. Given the right conditions (wind, humidity, temperature, prior rainfall, and so forth), it is not surprising that the fire spread to the nearest exposure, namely the structure(s) on the property. The lesson to learn here is that if one wishes to incinerate ordinary combustibles, learn how to do it safely. Your local fire department should have all the information needed including posting of burn bans. Note: burn barrels have been illegal in the state of Washington since 2000 and for good reason -- the origin of too many wildfires has been traced back to a burn barrel.
Next is the issue of the pets that became casualties. The exact number of each species varies from one news source to another but it seems that cats and dogs were involved as opposed to giraffes and wombats. This is a tragedy, the scale of which varies from person to person with an aggregate score somewhere between family photos and scions. Whether or not these animals could have been saved is debatable to the extreme. Smoke and heat can quickly damage small lungs past the point of no return. Firefighters will rescue pets if feasible but will not do so if it is too dangerous.
This leads me to a short discussion of what hazards FFs will face for what reward. Succinctly, we will risk a lot to save a life (human – sorry), we will risk a little to save property, and we will risk nothing to save resources. Were that was strictly true. Exceptions are too many and too frequent. We spend over a hundred hours a month training and learning what to do in dangerous situations. Putting personal safety first, the safety of your fellow firefighter second, and everyone else a distant third is yammered at us continuously. Then the alarm comes in, the tones go out, and we respond. Sometimes it is overconfidence, sometimes it is the ghost of John Wayne, sometimes it is just a mistake, and sometimes the s-word just happens. Whatever it is, it leads to injury . . . or worse. The Dragon we fight is a nasty, ravenous beast that doesn’t care what, or whom, it consumes. We fight what most people fear. People call us brave, call us heroes, but it is just simply what and who we are – what we do defines a firefighter as much as breathing, eating, and sleeping.
We take pride in being members of the Dragon Slayers Union, local 9-1-1. Which is why the inaction of the South Fulton FD is something we find beyond the pale. I share with many fellow firefighters across the nation a sense of disgust, humiliation, anger, embarrassment, and betrayal for the inaction of my brethren in Tennessee. While I understand what they did, I cannot condone it. Firefighting should never be strictly about the bottom line. Sure, there are private fire departments that contract services for a profit, but the individual firefighter should never be involved in the billing process. As expensive as firefighting can be, and it can be very expensive, the manner in which it is paid for should not be a responsibility of the firefighter. If you call, we respond. Period. That is the way it should be, and is, in most parts of the country. The fire service has evolved from the days of the bucket brigade and something that should be relegated to history is deciding whose home to save based on race, creed, religion, politics, or ability to pay. The SFFD should have responded rapidly, put out the damn fire, and left financial matters to the bean counters. Firefighters fight fires. We do not count nickels, even when they add up to $75, and we do not consult lists before doing what we have been trained to do.