Thursday, October 7, 2010

The sleeping dog just woke up in TN...

Well by now, if you haven’t heard about the issues surrounding the fire in Obion County, TN, (that was allowed to burn by the South Fulton Fire Department) you must have been in a coma for the last week…

This story has captured national media attention, as well as the ire of most who have chosen to comment or blog on the whole debacle.

Those who have been the target of the most criticism stemming from this have been the responding firefighters (SFFD), South Fulton’s Fire Chief, and the South Fulton City Administrator. This is the case because South Fulton was the department that initially didn’t respond, didn’t extinguish the fire once they did respond, and followed their “rules” regarding what fires they can and cannot extinguish. They operated in this manner on orders of their Fire Chief, who was following what his boss (the City Administrator) told him to do.

All of that being what it is, if I’m the officer on the engine, we’re putting the fire out. But that didn’t happen in this case, so let’s look a bit closer…

Point #1: The fire was NOT IN SOUTH FULTON. The fire was in unincorporated OBION COUNTY. Financial responsibility of fire protection for those living in rural Obion County should NOT be placed on the taxpayers living in South Fulton.

The policy of “you don’t pay, we don’t spray” is bad… no question. But what about the policy adopted by the Obion County government of “nah, we won’t provide fire protection… Just let the municipality handle it if they can collect some money.” This, despite the fact that (according to the Chief of the Hornbeak VFD) 85% of the fires in Obion County occur in the unincorporated areas. The simple fact that the City department is willing to respond outside their corporate limits speaks more to their character than the County government who isn’t willing (or in the County Mayor’s words, “not obligated”) to provide this service. He is correct… State law in Tennessee doesn’t require a county government to provide fire protection. But if a governing body isn’t required to provide an essential emergency service, who is?

It’s not like those involved weren’t aware of the issues related to fire protection in this county, as this report clearly identifies. In their wisdom, however, county government officials chose NOT to pursue this plan.

Point #2: The property owner started a fire, which they failed to control, and burned up his property. There has to be some level of personal responsibility assigned in this case. The entitled American culture of “I do something careless and it’s everyone else’s responsibility to fix it” is blatantly evident here.

Solutions? First and foremost, you build it (or buy it), and intend to live in it, then YOU protect it (bet you didn’t see that coming). Residential fire sprinklers provide a level of fire protection that is impossible to match with any type of emergency response model.

Secondly, if you want fire protection service, then YOU pay for fire protection service. Not dues, not donations, not subscriptions… a fire tax. Everybody pays their share – period. Dues collection rates (in areas that I’m familiar with) typically hover at or below 30%; so 7 of every 10 residents don’t pay their share.
It’s also not uncommon for fire departments that are NOT tax supported to devote countless hours towards fundraising activities. Personally, I’ve licked stamps, stuffed envelopes; bar-b-que’d chickens, participated in golf tournaments, bingo nights, car shows, picnics, auctions, yard sales, mud races, and haunted houses, all in the name of raising money for the good ol’ VFD.

How much better would the service be if our volunteers could spend that amount of time TRAINING for the calls that we respond to? I want my surgeon practicing surgery… not sewing scrubs.

All in all, I hate it for the family who lost their home, and the firefighters who were put in this position, all because those who were elected to govern and make decisions either made poor decisions, or no decision at all. It's unfortunate that it takes a tragedy like this, and being placed under the national microscope, to wake the "sleeping dog" and address the issue of funding fire protection.

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