I'm all over the board on this national debate about the fire at a man's house in rural Tennessee. You've probably heard about it. Gene Cranick and his family failed to pay the $75 annual fee for fire protection service this year - I don't know if they usually had paid up in years gone by - and when their house caught fire because one of his grandchildren was burning trash in the back yard and it got out of control, the fire department would not respond.
Right on the surface, it's horrible to think that the house burned down and the fire department would not help. Believe me, it is against the nature of firefighters everywhere to take no action when they see someone in need.
But Mr Cranick must have known the risk he was taking. He told Keith Olbermann on MSNBC that one of his sons had a fire at the son's house a couple of years ago, and the fire department responded and put out the fire, allowing young Cranick to pay his fee in the morning. That's great as far as it goes, but let me tell you one thing I learned in my days as a supervisor: if you give one person a break, the rest of the people don't say, "What a great guy you are for giving so-and-so a break!" What they say is, "Where's MY break?"
And they have a point. The fire department down there in South Fulton had made it clear to all that they will only respond to fires for people who have paid their annual fee. If it became known that you could just forget to pay the fee, and call in your fire with a promise to pay up the next day, don't you think that a lot of people would take that option, and then there goes the fire department's operating budget, and no one can be helped when there's no money for the engines and equipment.
This is not the first time I've heard of this. Subscription fire protection is the norm in a lot of rural areas across the nation, and it's not like it comes as a surprise to anyone. People are told clearly, here are your options, and if you would want the fire department to come to you if you have a fire, please remit. But this is the present case before us, and it's interesting that we are also embroiled in many debates about government doing this and that and people needing to take back the responsibility for their lives and Big Brother shouldn't interfere. The government down in Tennessee did not interfere here at all. No pay, no spray.
The government did step in and arrest another of Mr Cranick's sons who, after the fire was over, went to the fire house and assaulted the fire chief.