After firefighters watched home burn, Obion County expands subscription-only fire service to more towns

Glenn Beck defends: “We are going to have to have these things”

As ThinkProgress reported yesterday, South Fulton Fire Department firefighters from Obion, Tennessee, last week stood by and watched as a family’s home burned down because their services were available by subscription only, and the family had not paid the $75 fee. Immediately, right-wing writers at the conservative movement’s bulkhead magazine, The National Review, leapt to the defense of the county and argued in support of the notion that firefighting should not be a public service available to all, regardless of ability to pay.

Now, local news station ABC 7 is reporting that the Obion County Budget Committee met last night and has decided to expand the subscription-only fire service to additional towns.  TP has that story — and Glenn Beck’s defense of the county’s approach to fires — plus videos.  Again, I’m filing this under adaptation because there’s a global warming lesson here somewhere”¦.

The station reports that the committee “passed an agreement yesterday to give all communities in the county the option of paying a subscription” to purchase fire service “” essentially expanding the service that stood by and watched as the Cranick family’s home burned to the ground. Watch the station’s report:

Union City Fire Department Chief Kelly Edmison objects to the new expansion, saying that “the best option is a true fire tax. It eliminates this having 911 or whoever 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.” According to documents prepared by the county in 2008, a paltry 0.13 cent increase in property taxes on each household would be all it would take to fund fire services for the towns within the county.

Of course, right-wing writers at the conservative movement’s bulkhead magazine, The National Review, defended the county and argued that firefighting should not be a public service available to all, regardless of ability to pay.

Now, yet another major conservative has joined the defense. On his radio show this afternoon, leading right-wing talker Glenn Beck and his producer Pat Gray openly mocked the Cranick family. After playing a news clip explaining the situation, Gray adopted a southern drawl and began to mock Gene Cranick’s explanation of how the county’s firefighters refused to help his family.

Beck then went on to complain that “those who are just on raw feeling are not going to understand” that the county’s actions in refusing to assist the Cranicks were justified. He explained that America will be having the “argument” about the case of the Cranicks and that it will go “nowhere if you go onto ‘compassion, compassion, compassion, compassion’ or well, ‘they should’ve put it out, what is the fire department for?'” Beck then went on to say that the Cranicks would be “spongeing off their neighbors” if the fire department had helped them put out their fire. The radio host concluded his rant by saying “this is the kind of stuff that’s going to have to happen, we are going to have to have these kinds of things”:

GRAY: (mocking Cranick’s accent) Even tho’ I hadn’t paid mah seventy five dollahs I thought dey’d put it out. […] I wanted ’em to put it out, but dey didn’t put it out.

BECK: Here’s the thing. Those that are just on raw feeling are not going to understand. […]

GRAY: But I thought they was gonna put the fire out anyway, but it burned down. Dat ain’t right! […] What’s the Fire Department for if you don’t put out the fire?! […] I thought they’d put out mah fire even if I didn’t pay seventy five dollars.

BECK: This is the sort of argument that Americans are going to have.

GRAY: It is.

BECK: And it goes nowhere if you go onto “compassion, compassion, compassion, compassion” or well, “they should’ve put it out, what is the fire department for?” […] If you don’t pay the 75 dollars then that hurts the fire department. They can’t use those resources, and you’d be spongeing off your neighbor’s resources. […] It’s important for America to have this debate. This is the kind of stuff that’s going to have to happen, we are going to have to have these kinds of things.

Watch it:

It appears that Beck believes that events like what transpired in Obion County should teach Americans lessons about personal responsibility. But where does Beck draw the line when it comes to opposing public services for those who have not paid fees? Would he oppose subscription-based police officers refusing to help a rape victim? How about subscription-based military personnel refusing to repel a terrorist attack on a community that hasn’t paid up? One has to wonder just how far Beck is willing to go.

Think Progress cross-posts

32 Responses to After firefighters watched home burn, Obion County expands subscription-only fire service to more towns

  1. Turboblocke says:

    How would the fire service respond to a row of houses or an appartment block on fire where one owner hasn’t paid their subscription?

  2. catman306 says:

    I wonder if they often have wildfires in Obion County? Imagine the chaos for the fire department if they should ever have a big wildfire covering many hundreds, or even thousands, of acres. It’s pretty hard to find property boundary markers during a forest fire. These lawmakers are clearly dysfunctional helping to create an America where stupid is the new smart. How does stupid fit into that natural system that Darwin discovered?

  3. So. If a property that is not covered for fire insurance burns out of control causing others in the neighbourhood to catch and be damaged with the potential for lives lost then that is ‘just too bad’.

    So. If whilst the services determine if a property is covered or not then the fire gains more of a hold requiring eventual intervention with the delay causing an increase in the risk to the fire fighters then that is ‘just too bad’.

    Sheesh! Beck is king of the age of stupid.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Ever since I began wasting my time and imposing on the patience and forebearance of others in this blogging lark, I have been banging on about the Rightwing psychopathology, which is,in my opinion, the source of all our woes. Those people who we euphemistically label ‘Rightwing’ share a psychology that, to varying degrees over a broad continuum, basically arises from fear and hatred of other human beings. This outrage, simply inconceivable thirty, even twenty years ago, and in nearly every other country on the planet, is despicable enough, but the zealotry and viciousness of its defence by Rightwing robopaths surely must wake even those most mired in denial to the horrifying reality of just what the far Right represents in terms of human malevolence and destructiveness.
    Of course Beck is a prize specimen, but even for him the parodying of the distraught family was beneath contempt. However, I was even more struck by his berating and parodying of the concept of ‘compassion’. Pardon my presumption as an agnostic, but I thought that compassion was the very basis of the Nazarene’s doctrine, that Christianity that the likes of Beck continually invoke and loudly assert their adherence to. I’d accuse Beck of being a particularly florid hypocrite, but then I suppose he is just an ‘Old Testament’ Christian, the sort for whom the punitive, judgmental and genocidal ‘God’ of that compendium of ‘commandments’, dire punishments and exhortations to genocide, is both role model and psychological projection. If you ask me ‘Where will they stop? Where will the basic decency of the Nazarene overwhelm the punitive and infinitely cruel judgmentalism of the old patriarch in the sky (and his earthly representatives)?’, I would be forced to say. ‘Nowhere and never’. Hatred this intense only grows and grows, and barring a miraculous spontaneous spiritual remission, will either consume the hater himself, or all about him and all about his kind.

  5. darth says:

    This policy is so bad on so many levels. I have been a firefighter for 20 years. Our volunteer company gets funding from two sources: a county stipend and from donations and fund-raising events. Subscription policies are bad news for so many reasons, not the least of which is the simple fact that fire spreads. We respond to all calls within our service area and surrounding areas as needed. After hurricane Isabel we send trucks and crews to a town 100 miles away to assist them.

    When fire companies first began in this country, it was all subscription based. But problems such as the wrong company responding, multiple companies or none responding, spreading fires in dense cities and towns caused a change to the universal service almost all areas have today.

    Aside from the moral and ethical arguments, here’s a short list of reasons why this is bad policy:

    1. What if the caller had actually paid but there was a clerical error and the department had lost the record? Ooops, liability risk.
    2. What if the caller was not who they said they were, perhaps an arsonist or other bad actor, and there actually were people in the house? The department takes the word of a 911 caller at face value? More liability risk.
    3. The fire did spread to the neighbors property and caused damage. This would have been prevented by an initial response. So the policy leads to bad service EVEN FOR THE PEOPLE WHO PAY.
    4. What if the caller was renting the property and thought the owner had paid the fee but they really had not?

    Why expose your business to so much unnecessary liability risk? The fire chief is correct, the problem is the county government. All of this is easily avoided with a fire tax or a simple addition on the property tax. $75 per year – $6.25 per month or about $0.21 per day.

    The answer is that public safety is called ‘public’ safety for a reason – it affects all of us and what happens to my neighbor does affect me.

  6. Keith says:

    absolute madness.

  7. Keith says:

    Lincoln should have let the South go away.
    50+% of Southerners are just bat-$#!@ crazy.
    If they weren’t, they’d be SOUNDLY voting out the political supporters of this nonsense.

    [JR: Let’s not go overboard here. A powerful minority can screw things up for everyone else in many states (and indeed the nation) if enough of the population either choose not to get the facts or get their “facts” from the likes of Fox News.]

  8. darth says:

    Continuing my previous list, Reason number 5: What if an abandoned structure is on fire? Do you wait until it spreads to a paying persons property? That is terrible firefighting strategy and again results in POOR SERVICE to your paying customers.

    6: How do you know over the phone that the abandoned structure is really vacant? There could be homeless people living in there. Do they just get left to fend for themselves?

  9. JasonW says:

    What a vile person Glenn Beck is! Speaking from across the Pond: How on Earth are people like him not shouted off the stage? Why does he have so many adherents? This is raw, naked misanthropy – unless, of course, he is continuing to help spread the corporatism message. I am truly coming to believe that these people are actively pushing to government by corporations. Scary thought! One can only hope that Europe doesn’t follow the same path.

    Americans, if you want to know the true threat to your freedom, just listen to Glenn Beck. It’s quite obvious that Americans as a whole have never known true tyranny. Otherwise, all sorts of alarm bells would go off at the kind of hate speech the likes of Beck and Limbaugh spout.

  10. Anonymous says:

    What a world, where a radio talk show host will have more influence than a city fire chief in the best way to run a fire department. What we need now is expertise, not persuasiveness.

  11. wag says:

    You’re missing the lesson here. It’s not that public services should help people who haven’t paid fees. If you’re a free rider, then don’t blame me when you get burned.

    Rather, the lesson is that people should not be able to opt out of these fees in the first place. That’s especially true when if YOUR house catches on fire, it could catch your neighbor’s house on fire as well. The global warming lesson is this: individuals don’t have the right to opt out of pollution control, because their pollution spreads to others. Even if I’m responsible and put solar panels on my house and am energy efficient, that can’t protect me from the global warming caused by the irresponsible people who drive big cars and commute from the ‘burbs.

  12. greg says:

    I urge reasonable family and friends who don’t understand climate science to check out Climate Progress. Sometimes they visit. I think if they visit when one of these off-topic posts is up top, they are much less likely to learn about climate change.

  13. Keith says:

    The orders of #11 & 12 should be rev’d b/c
    #11 is the lesson for #12’s family and friends.

  14. Scrooge says:

    This just looks like a typical republican fix. Just a regressive tax called a fee. Repubs have to take the simplest fix because they are incapable of handling complex issues. Two years ago the US had an economic system that wasn’t just sick but was in cardiac arrest. We are lucky the dems were in charge because the conservative ideas that got us into the mess had no clue how to get is out. Yet to think where we would be now if there were no bailout or stimulus. Its a scary thought.

  15. Dickensian American says:

    How would the fire service respond to a row of houses or an appartment block on fire where one owner hasn’t paid their subscription?

    I thought about this very scenario. I live in Brooklyn New York, a long ways off from the rural environment where the Cranicks live. I realize this isn’t necessarily an apples to apples comparison. Here, all the buildings are adjoined.

    There are immediate shared consequences when property owners default on basic maintenance. For instance, if your neighbor has water coming in through an uncapped chimney, it will damage YOUR masonry on the shared wall. Another example, a messy filthy tenant five doors down will provide a home for vermin. Those mice and roaches WILL find their way through small openings in the shared walls and along the firebreak beams and show up at least a few times a year in your apartment. Though not always thoroughly enforced, I am grateful for the building and health codes that mandate that set minimums for how property owners and tenants can legally maintain their quarters.

    In my densely populated neighborhood, personal responsibility is the same as collective responsibility. Watching out for my sh*t means watching out for yours. The division between the two forms of responsibility strikes me as artificial as the presumed divisions in the mind body continuum. I have a hard time understanding why folks living in other settings just don’t get this. And it is here, Joe, that I personally think the lesson for climate change lies. These false dichotomies that cloud our vision and prevent many of us from seeing that we are all in this together with no place else to go.

  16. Dano says:

    Look: folks like the melody, but when they finally understand the lyrics the tune will change.

    Reality doesn’t bend to ideology and sometimes you have to go backward to go forward. What is much better here is to take up collections and organize volunteers, then start an education campaign. Not hard to conceive at all. When disasters increase, we do not want every rich person for themselves. The time to stop that scenario is now, because we see where this is going. Do we want such a world?



  17. climate undergrad says:

    I just don’t get how the ‘religious right’ gets to pull this kind of crap.

    -compassionate atheist

  18. BillD says:

    I donot believe that you can get a mortgage without home insurance and I don’t believe that insurance company will sell insurance at a reasonable price unless a building would be protected by a fire department. Are Beck and the other wackos going to argue that car owners should not be required to have minimal liability coverage? Save us from these misguided jerks.

    Do the fire departments at least check to see whether lives are at risk before standing back? The next step is that insurance coverage will be checked before someone receives emergency medical care. So much for progress toward minimal universal coverage.

  19. Dana says:

    Beck of course is going after the wrong party. Instead of mocking the victims and blaming the home owner, he should be criticizing the country for having a subscription system in the first place. Great explanation by darth @ #5.

    Of course, the alternative is a tax, and we know conservatives like Beck can’t support any sort of tax for any reason whatsoever, so instead he blames the victim.

  20. Ric Merritt says:

    There IS a consistent libertarian position buried in here, which I have not noticed expressed anywhere. (I’m not advocating, just exploring the logic.)

    Under this regime, obviously, no fee paid, no fire-fighting assistance, at least for property. (Presumably, they run in to save little tykes in jeopardy.) However, it would make sense to fight the fire without the past fees, provided the owner ponies up enough to cover the past fees, with generous interest and penalties. This could be enforced with a lien on the property. If the entire property is not worth enough to cover the fire-fighting effort, then, duh, the fire should not be fought under ANY funding mechanism. Unless, of course, the owner places extra value on it for sentimental reasons, in which case sorry Charlie, you had your chance to pay the fee up front.

    There isn’t room in a blog comment to follow up on all the ramifications, but that is the core.

  21. RickJ says:

    Greg (#12): Private firefighters working for AIG and other insurance companies in Southern California (they protect only clients’ homes) are already evoking climate change as a reason the country needs more of their services, so this absolutely relates. See Harper’s magazine from a year ago:

  22. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    Owning real estate and thereby setting yourself up for being extorted (which is exactly what this is, just like the Mafioso extracts fees for not breaking your knees) is a passing paradigm. The new black is mobility, and renting/nomadism ensures that. With global warming, mobility will become even more of an issue for survival reasons. And who’s to say the fire company is above setting fires to put fear into people so they’ll subscribe?

    This kind of corruption is what leads to people taking things into their own hands. They either start their own fire department or they go ballistic.

    My grandpa always said that it’s best to be a moving target, and he who travels light, travels well.

  23. SunMan says:

    So who in Obion County is taking the responsibility for guaranteeing the paid-list is accurate and up to date?

    Considering fires *can* involve explosions, death, and risks small-minded radio jerks do not understand, is this responsible party’s insurance even valid today with this sea-change of policy by Obion County?

    As an insurer, a whole new encyclopaedia of risks have been introduced which makes me understand if the insurer has been informed? Has revalued the policies? etc.?

    One clerical error resulting in one home, one death, one tragedy… the whole equation changes.

  24. Cinnamon Girl says:

    Sooo, under the Beck “reasoning,” if the accountants for the owners of the World Trade Center lapsed in paying the building’s fire protection subscription fee, NYFD stands by and lets ‘er go? I wonder what he’d say if a warehouse full of Chinese-made American flags was burning, but the owner hadn’t paid the fee. What about rescue services? ‘We’ll try to rescue your babies from the non-subscribed burning building, as long as we don’t have to fight the fire to do it. If we have to handle the fire in order to do the rescue, well then….at least you won’t have to pay the funeral home a cremation fee!” (An even worse dilemma if it’s an unborn child.) The next steps? ‘Well, everyone’s well-armed by now, so you’re on your own if you don’t pay the police protection subscription fee.’ ‘Sorry, dude. You didn’t pay the water services subscription, so you only get the unsanitized water.’ The thing hints at the more general flaw in privatizing services–when the chips are down, privateers bail if they can’t make a buck on the situation. Government, or citizen collaboration f/k/a as “government,” is the last line of defense when there’s not a profit to be made. Which partly is why society probably will melt in a CO2-enhanced climate.

  25. SunMan says:

    Cinnamon Girl and others offer more evidence of this radical right folly:

    1) Massively underestimate risk
    2) Privatize gains
    3) Socialize losses

  26. Sailesh Rao says:

    Glenn Beck’s contempt for compassion perhaps indicates a medical problem with the pre-frontal cortex of his brain. A damaged PFC prevents people from considering the larger social good and can make them seem amoral, as if they have lost their “souls”.

    Perhaps, Glenn Beck deserves our compassion.

  27. MrCannuckistan says:

    Re: Glen Beck.

    I suppose it only costs $75 a year to have a fire department on hand to put out your fire? Even if you paid the fee, you’d still be sponging off your neighbour.

    Free market privatized capitalism would argue that you pay the whole cost of putting your house out, from the salaries of the firefighters, the cost of the fuel for the trucks, right down to the bill for the water they used.

    If these guys knew they were actually arguing FOR socialized fire services they’d probably have an aneurysm.


  28. toby says:

    This is the glibertarian vision of the future – with all local services (police, fire service, health) paid for by subscription only.

    You refuse to pay the subscription, your house burns down, suddenly eveyone is paying …. isn’t that called a protection racket?

  29. Kevin says:

    Beck perfectly mirrors the growing political strain in this country that there is no such thing as a public good. What is shocking is that moderates are so inept that they fail to use his sermons to illustrate the sort of future these folks would create. We ignore this guy and his growing movement at our and our country’s peril. In large parts of this country there is an emerging economic panic– Beck is exploiting this just as occured in Germany in the 1930s. Just saying.

  30. ouch says:

    This will be remembered as the day the USA fell. Why do you let mentally ill people rule your country?

  31. SK Williams says:

    Keith, I have lived in Tennessee my whole life. Really its unjustified to say all Southerners, or even over half, are crazy. Just like its wrong to assume Obion County is the whole State of Tennessee, which some commenters seem to think. I live in Rhea County, and the Fire Department I use is a Public one run by the City of Dayton, also were I live. If anyone’s house caught fire, they would respond. While, fortunately, my house has not (In many years) caught fire ( Not since I owned it anyway) but I was in a lie threatening accident and the Police and medical response was swift and effective, and I survived by the Grace of God.

    Obion County is nothing like Rhea County, or Hamilton County wee my actual Medical Aid was administered. Its not even like Cook or Jefferson or Megs county. You can’t judge the whole State of Tennessee by the actions of a bad county government, and you can’t judge everyone in the South as if we’re all rather proud of the events that occurred. Most of us are actually quiet appalled.

    But we’re also appalled by being characterised by people who aren’t Southern as if we are inbred hicks who lack s intelligence and sanity. In that way your no different than Glenn Beck and Grey his Producer.