Firefighting in Obion County

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Everybody is chattering today about the South Fulton Fire Department. Why? Because they provide fire protection for the city of South Fulton, Tennessee. If you live outside the city, you have to rely on the County of Obion to provide fire services.

All perfectly reasonable. Except that the County of Obion doesn’t provide any fire services. So if you live in the nearby vicinity and want fire protection, you have to pay South Fulton $75 per year. Gene Cranick didn’t pay the fee, so a few days ago, after he started a fire in a couple of barrels in his backyard and the fire got out of control, the South Fulton Fire Department didn’t respond when he called. “I thought they’d come out and put it out, even if you hadn’t paid your $75, but I was wrong,” he explained succinctly.

This has spawned a lot of outrage. How could the South Fulton Fire Department just sit around and not respond? Both the fire chief and the mayor are getting a lot of heat. But I have a different question: why is the County of Obion apparently not generating any outrage of its own? This is not a new problem, after all. The county has declined to provide fire services for a long time, it’s been a lively issue for a long time, and they know perfectly well that local cities won’t always respond to their fires. Courtesy of the world wide web, for example, here’s “A Presentation Regarding The Establishment And Implementation of a County-Wide Fire Department,” dated March 18, 2008, describing exactly how fire services work in the County of Obion. Also included in this document: a plan to create an Obion County Fire Department by merging the services of the various municipal fire departments in the county along with a plan to raise about half a million dollars to fund it. Revenue would come from either a 0.13 cent property tax increase, a fee on electric meters, or a flat subscription fee.

The county commissioners of Obion County apparently decided against this plan. Didn’t want to increase taxes, I suppose. As a result, Gene Cranick’s house burned down.

His isn’t the first one, either. The county knew this was a longstanding problem, they knew it might happen again, and two years before Cranick’s house burned down they had a proposal in front of them to address it. But they didn’t. If anyone should be getting grief over this, shouldn’t it be them?

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

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In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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