Tempers flare in SF after house allowed to burn; fire chief hit
Posted: Thursday, September 30, 2010 9:05 pm
By: Chris Menees, Staff Reporter
By CHRIS MENEES
South Fulton’s fire chief was assaulted Wednesday in the aftermath of a fire where firefighters were unable to respond because the property owner had not paid a rural fire subscription fee.
South Fulton Fire Chief David Wilds was treated at an area hospital after being assaulted about 5:45 p.m. at the city’s fire station, located in the South Fulton Municipal Building.
Timothy A. Cranick, 44, a resident of Buddy Jones Road near South Fulton, was arrested and charged with felony aggravated assault, according to South Fulton Police Chief Andy Crocker.
Crocker said the assault stemmed from a fire that occurred earlier in the day and he identified Cranick as a family member of the person whose property burned.
He said Cranick allegedly came to the fire station looking for Wilds, according to witnesses. When the fire chief identified himself and asked if he could help him, Cranick allegedly struck Wilds.
“He just cold-cocked him,” Crocker said, based on witness statements.
Crocker said Wilds was knocked down, rendering him virtually defenseless. He said Cranick was pulled off the fire chief by other firefighters who restrained him until additional help arrived.
Cranick was taken to the Obion County Law Enforcement Complex and was later taken to the hospital in Union City for treatment of a hand injury sustained in the incident.
South Fulton city manager Jeff Vowell told The Messenger that Wilds is “doing OK” today and is actually back at the fire station — despite what he characterized as a very emotional and trying day on the job Wednesday, made even more stressful by a local television news crew’s presence and then the assault incident.
Wilds has referred any comment about Wednes-day’s situation to Vowell.
The fire that sparked the controversy apparently broke out about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at Gene Cranick’s property on Buddy Jones Road, located outside the city limits of South Fulton.
Vowell explained that the property owner was not a paying member of the rural fire subscription service offered to county residents by the City of South Fulton. He said as per city policy, established by city ordinance, the call was declined and the city’s fire department could not respond.
“I have no problem with the way any of my people handled the situation. They did what they were supposed to do,” he said. “It’s a regrettable situation any time something like this happens.”
He said the South Fulton Fire Department did respond to a request to protect the property of the adjacent property owner, who is a member of the rural fire subscription service.
Vowell said county residents do not have guaranteed fire service since there is no countywide fire department to cover rural areas, but many municipalities offer rural fire coverage to residents in specified coverage areas for a nominal annual fee. South Fulton’s fee is $75.
However, Vowell said residents in those rural areas cannot be forced to pay the fee and it’s their decision whether to accept the coverage.
“We are a city fire department. We are responsible for the City of South Fulton and we offer a subscription (to rural residents). If they choose not to, we can’t make them,” he said.
He said Obion County government has been thoroughly studying rural fire protection and “has looked at it 100 different ways,” with details of a proposal still being worked out. Ironically, the matter began to be discussed seriously just over two years ago following a similar situation where South Fulton firefighters could not respond to a rural call.
Rural service offered
South Fulton Mayor David Crocker said city officials don’t want to see anyone’s house burn, but he emphasized that South Fulton has a city fire department which is supported by city taxes in order to serve its residents — with a rural fire subscription service made available outside the city limits to county residents in the city’s designated rural coverage area.
“We’re very sorry their house burned,” he said.
Mayor Crocker said if the fire department operated on a per-call basis outside the city, there would be no incentive for anyone to pay the rural fee. As an analogy, he said if an auto owner allowed their vehicle insurance to lapse, they would not expect an insurance company to pay for an unprotected vehicle after it was wrecked.
Vowell said people always think they will never be in a situation where they will need rural fire protection, but he said City of South Fulton personnel actually go above and beyond in trying to offer the service. He said the city mails out notices to customers in the specified rural coverage area, with coverage running from July 1 of one year to July 1 the next year.
At the end of the enrollment month of July, the city goes a step further and makes phone calls to rural residents who have not responded to the mail-out.
“These folks were called and notified,” Vowell said. “I want to make sure everybody has the opportunity to get it and be aware it’s available. It’s been there for 20 years, but it’s very important to follow up.”
Mayor Crocker added, “It’s my understanding with talking with the firefighters that these folks had received their bill and they had also contacted them by phone.”
“My worst nightmare is that, for whatever reason, you don’t respond to someone who isn’t (a rural fire service member). That’s why we’re so diligent and adamant,” Vowell said. “No one wants what happened yesterday. I don’t want it, the fire department doesn’t want it, the (city commission) doesn’t want it.”
Published in The Messenger 9.30.10