Humane Society condemns subscription-only firefighters for standing by and letting animals die in fire

kittens2 As ThinkProgress has been reporting all week, South Fulton Fire Department firefighters from Obion, Tennessee, stood by and watched as the Cranick family’s home burned down because their fire-fighting services were available on a subscription basis only, and the family had not paid the $75 fee. Immediately, right-wing writers at the conservative movement’s bulkhead magazine, The National Review, and conservative radio host Glenn Beck defended the county and argued that firefighting should not be a public service available to all, regardless of ability to pay.

The Cranicks revealed in an interview with MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann that they lost four pets in the fire “” three dogs and a cat.  TP has the story in a cross-post I’m filing under adaptation, again, because there’s a global warming lesson here somewhere”¦.

Now, the Human Society of the United States (HSUS) “” the 11 million member-strong organization dedicated to animal welfare “” has condemned the Obion County policy of only offering firefighting to rural residents through a subscription-based service. In their statement, the Humane Society writes that it’s “inexecusable that three dogs and a cat would have to die in such a horrible way, with firefighters ordered to not intervene, because of an unpaid $75 service fee“:

The Humane Society of the United States is issuing the following statement in response to the heartbreaking news that four animals died in an Obion County, Tenn., fire because the homeowner didn’t pay a service fee, and firefighters were told they could not extinguish the blaze:

“It is inexcusable that three dogs and a cat would have to die in such a horrible way, with firefighters ordered to not intervene, because of an unpaid $75 service fee. Putting out fires is a matter of life and death for people and animals, and South Fulton city officials should quickly reconsider their emergency response policies before others are put at risk,” said Leighann McCollum, Tennessee state director for The HSUS.

The Humane Society is not the only major national organization to condemn Obion County’s policy following ThinkProgress’s reporting. Earlier this week, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) “” which “represents more than 298,000 full-time professional fire fighters and paramedics who protect 85 percent of the nation’s population” “” called the firefighters who refused to help the Cranicks “incredibly irresponsible. “¦ [Firefighters] shouldn’t be forced to check a list before running out the door to see which homeowners have paid up,” said a statement by the group.

As the Progress Report writes, “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. Only by rededicating ourselves to rebuilding an American Dream that works for all Americans can progressives repudiate this merciless philosophy.”

Update is organizing a letter-writing campaign to tell “Obion County Sherrif Danny Jowers, the main contact person for Obion County Office of Emergency Management, that letting pets burn to death over $75 is unacceptable.” The animal welfare group The Philanthropy Team is demanding the resignation of Mayor David Crocker and Fire Chief David Wilds.
— This is a Think Progress cross-post.

29 Responses to Humane Society condemns subscription-only firefighters for standing by and letting animals die in fire

  1. Elmo says:

    Hells Bells! This time it was pets. Would they have stood idly by and watched a house full of people burn?

  2. But… but… but… it’s just a cat!


    [JR: I’m a cat person!]

  3. John McCormick says:

    Early September it was a whackjob phony minister threatening to burn Korans to show the Muslim world how much he hates Muslims.

    Then, a psychotic phony minister in Tennessee praised his god for killing American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Now, its a Tennessee mayor defending his policy of ‘no pay–then pray’ fire protection.

    All three are friends of the glenn beck and limbag crowd. We other Americans are left to watch foreign money buy the 112th Congress. Their mentalities are collectively numbing us and leaving us shaking our heads and wondering what is to become of us all as they execute what our nation had been in the eyes of many people around the world….maybe that is just we Americans talking to ourselves.

    What has happened to our moral outrage or are we becoming so tolerant of that kind of behavior, attitude and repulsiveness. I’m afraid we have and there is no bottom in that direction.

    John McCormick

  4. Robert Brulle says:

    What this represents to me is the continued privatization of public services. If this sort of approach continues to expand, will we need to buy hurricane or flood rescue services? Imagine New Orleans if you only got rescued if you had previously paid your rescue services fee. Will you have to show your credit card before the helicopter picks you off of a roof?

    Adaptation to climate change (if there is such a thing) is going to cost our society immense sums of money to just deal with the adverse consequences. If we adopt a rationing of public services to only those who can pay, we are going down the road of private hurricane shelters for the rich, and tent cities (size of tent based on your ability to pay) for everyone else. This erodes any sense of collective community. This is exactly the wrong direction to be going. We need to build community cohesion, not divide into the haves and have nots when we deal with climate change. As the IPCC WG II reports clearly show, communities with high social capital and social cohesion are better able to deal with the inevitable extreme weather events that climate change will bring.

    Dr. Robert Brulle

  5. There are some who argue that a civil society would allow pets to burn and children to starve.
    Climate change will bring much suffering.
    I think man’s capacity for compassion will be tested. Not sure we’ll pass.

  6. Mike says:

    You would think they could have a provision to put out the fire “at cost” for someone who has not paid the fee. The cost might be a couple of thousand but that’s likely less than the insurance deducible and very likely less than the emotional loss.

  7. Jonsi says:

    I’m curious: if you get injured while hiking or backpacking, and wilderness rescue comes to save you, they will charge you with the helicopter bill. Similarly, if you are at fault in a car accident and there is glass and other material all over the road, many cities/counties will charge you for the removal of the debris. Those agencies have budgets for equipment and people to serve the public good, but they still charge you for their services if forced to act.

    I am not suggesting that fire departments should bill all fires. Rather, it seems to me that the fire department could have put out the fire, and since the homeowner was NOT a subscriber, they would have a legal basis to charge the homeowner a high fee that fully accounts for their equipment and resources used in containing/eliminating the fire.

    I believe that fire services should be treated as a basic public good for all, but this seems to me the blindingly obvious thing to do if you switch to a subscription service: require the firehouse to engage all fires, but protect their assets. Of course, there is not room for even that amidst the flames of the libertarian hubris.

  8. mike roddy says:

    Often you should believe the opposite of what people are saying. The right wing nuts are trying to stick their chests out and show independence through liberation from dependence on government, making them stronger and more self reliant people.

    If you scratch the surface of the ones making all the noise, here’s what they do for a living: Grows chickens for Tyson. Manages the local Burger King. Drives a fuel truck for an oil company. Like a lot of us, they are indentured servants for corporations, enduring petty humiliations daily, and are afraid to direct their rage at the real offenders. Beck and Limbaugh, acting on behalf of Murdoch and his advertisers, prey on this, and make government and “liberals” into the default targets.

    These people are in a minority, but as history has shown, 40% will get the job done, especially if Senators are bribed and the rules are archaic. It will take a major awakening to change these patterns.

  9. Bullwinkle says:

    Where are the “right to lifers” as our people burn? The Tea Party won’t stop at fire fighting. Law enforcement will be next. Soon, right wing militias, piled into the back of pickup trucks, will be enforcing their laws. We are watching a once great nation die. If we can’t agree we need firefighting, we are on the road to becoming the next Afghanistan.

  10. Dragan Glas says:


    I agree with the many people and organizations which found this action – or rather, inaction – reprehensible.

    The first fire brigade service was a private insurance one in London, UK. This model was abandoned as, if a non-customer’s house next door to a customer’s was on fire, it would not be put out – until it actually started the customer’s house to catch fire. For obvious reasons, this approach was unsupportable – morally and financially (customers stopped paying since, in the above scenario, their house would suffer damage prior to anything being done).

    This was how the public-funded fire service began.

    I understand that the home-owner offered to pay on-the-spot, but was refused.

    Again, this is ridiculous.

    Normally with insurance schemes, if you’re not insured, by paying double the fee – as if you’d paid for last year and this year – you’d be considered to be covered and, therefore, eligible for the service immediately.

    A truly shocking state of affairs.

    Kindest regards,


  11. Leif says:

    Let look for a moment at the roll of big Corporations that refuse to pony up for climate mitigation. Since they have not paid their “subscription” fees I must assume that society has every right it take their money for the mitigation efforts. Why is it that there always seams to be a different standard for the little guy and the BIG guy. Didn’t the Supreme Court just rule that corporations are people?

  12. Peter M says:

    If one thinks the Tea Party/Ayn Rand Philosophy of ‘I got mine- get your own’ for humans, is going to meet any kind of compassion for animals- think twice.

  13. richard pauli says:

    Uh oh… will this season’s Halloween costume be a fire fighter outfit?

    Great for parties, stand around and do nothing. Maybe next to a congressman.

  14. Christopher Yaun says:

    The global warming connection? The Beck-Limbaugh-Fox strategy is to deliver the marginal vote neccessary for the republican party to control our government.

    As long as Beck can keep us quibling over $75 we won’t notice the hundreds of millions of untraceable $$$ that just bought this election for the republicans.

    With the new campaign finance laws the republican base may discover that Beck and Limbaugh are no longer needed and dismiss them like other unwanted employees.

  15. Wit's End says:

    Haha thank you richard pauli, you made me laugh!!

  16. TomG says:

    This whole thing is bizarre.
    Libertarism run amok in my opinion.
    But I have a question. Two actually…
    If the firemen didn’t go into action until the fire spread to a neighbour who had paid this $75 subscription…what happens if they couldn’t control the fire and the subscription paying neighbour’s house burns down?
    Wouldn’t the county and city now be wide open to a massive law suit since the fire dept knowingly let a fire start on a “customer’s” property??

  17. Jim Groom says:

    TomG, yes indeed you have asked the right question. Suppose that when the fire dept arrived the gentlemen in front on the burning house was confused and said my cats are inside when he actually meant my wonderful old wife and her cats are inside? This was a stupid and shamful act by the department pure and simple. They could have, and should have, put out the fire before any further damage was done to the surroundings and collected their blood money later. This Tea Party thinking is destroying this country. I can’t help but wonder what happened to the land of the free and the home of the brave? What is everybody so afraid of…has our nation become a nation of cowards? Too many folks seem to be afraid of too much government, not enough government and their own shadows. Pitiful.

  18. GFW says:

    >Would they have stood idly by and watched a house full of people burn?

    If they suspected that they were illegal immigrants, I’m sure that would be the Beck/Limbaugh position.

  19. David Lewis says:

    Crassus, the richest man in ancient Rome, at one point owned the only fire department in the city.

    “One of his most lucrative schemes took advantage of the fact that Rome had no fire department. Crassus filled this void by creating his own brigade–500 men strong–which rushed to burning buildings at the first cry of alarm. Upon arriving at the scene, however, the fire fighters did nothing while their employer bargained over the price of their services with the distressed property owner. If Crassus could not negotiate a satisfactory price, his men simply let the structure burn to the ground.”

  20. mike roddy says:

    Slightly OT, but the reason that putting out fires is such a big deal in this country is the fact that we build them out of two by fours and plywood. Our per capita death rate from housefires is about 15 times that of France, for example. The whole fire department/fire insurance infrastructure is an interest group itself- and they beat the drum for wood houses, which are also terrible for the climate:,

  21. catman306 says:

    I think that the Book of Revelations (John) says that compassion and empathy will be in extremely short supply during the final days. The folks in Tennessee have probably heard that and are working toward that end.

    It’s outrageous that 3 cats and a dog died in this fire. What a sorry fire department and city government. And the Tea Party and Glenn Beck. I can hear them singing “Are we not men? No, we are Devo.”

    I hope to see this mash up on the YouTube in a couple of days. Someone, please.

    Joe, I’m a cat man myself.

  22. unreal2r says:

    We’ve come full circle.

    In the weeks and months after 9/11 first responders were elevated to demigod status by the archetypically selfless members of the NYPD. They were all that was right and good in America.

    Now we have a new model – one that typifies a selfish conceit that is all that is dysfunctional and abhorrent.

    If we don’t adequately address climate change in the time we have to prevent a global disaster, it won’t be because we couldn’t, it will be because the planet is not on the list of properties to save.

  23. S.W. Ela says:

    Fine comments above! I recommend reading Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine,” published in 2007, readily available in paperback. I read this book this summer. Doing so has much increased my understanding of the forty-year-old privatization strategy of the corporate right-wing, not only globally and nationally, but at state and county levels, too.

  24. LazyTeenager says:

    Wonder what it would take to change the mind of these people?
    1. Dog or cat burned alive
    2. Guy out of work due to GFC burned alive
    3. Elderly veteran burned alive
    4. Children of working mother burned alive
    5. Their own absent-minded elderly parents burned alive

  25. Dano says:

    This is how the ideology plays out on the ground. Who are we to criticize what people want?



  26. Jim O'Rourke says:

    Is this a joke?! April 1 is still about six months away!

  27. twb says:

    I’ll go ahead and take the counter-position here: the homeowner has the moral responsibility for what happened to his pets, since he chose not to pay the $75 yearly fee for fire protection. In this case, the homeowners wanted a free market fire subscription, and the free market is what they got.

    The homeowner gambled. He lost. Innocent animals suffered. But let’s be clear: by not paying $75 per year, the homeowner, in effect, said that the fire department had no responsibility for his home.

    In a larger sense, this is what happens when citizens can choose *not* to be covered by public services. From a financial perspective, firefighters are a net loser: you can’t recover enough from a fee-for-service model to keep your operations going. So, like any insurance, you require people to pay up front, either through taxes or subscription fees.

    If you don’t pay your taxes, the taxing authority can initiate legal proceedings to recover; thus, there is no excuse for not providing emergency services to a delinquent taxpayer. But the city would have no senior claim to the assets of the homeowner, and thus it’s unlikely that they could have recovered an amount sufficient to cover their costs (fighting a fire is *expensive*, and when local fire departments tried billing a very low $500 on a pay-as-you-go basis, they collected less than 50% of the billed funds). Furthermore, it would set a precedent that people could skip out on their dues until something went wrong.

    I find myself agreeing with Glenn Beck on this when he says, “If you don’t pay the $75, then that hurts the fire department. They can’t use those resources and you would be sponging off of your neighbor’s $75.” But this is an argument *for* public services — even for a strongly public health care system!

    Like it or not, we are all Obion County now, and either we live together or burn apart.

  28. espiritwater says:

    It seems our world just gets worse and worse all the time— less and less compassion, more and more lies/corruption, more and more violence; basically, it’s pretty discouraging!

    I’m a cat person too, JR. But even if it were only dogs in the house, it’s still a poor excuse for a human being who would sit idly by and let something like that happen.