Writers fire off letters concerning SF blaze

Writers fire off letters concerning SF blaze

Posted: Thursday, October 7, 2010 8:48 pm

Staff Reporter
An opinion.
Everybody has one.
And there certainly hasn’t been any shortage of opinions in the aftermath of the Sept. 29 fire that destroyed Gene and Paulette Cranick’s home on Buddy Jones Road near South Fulton. City officials have indicated the property owner was not a paying member of the rural fire subscription service offered to county residents by the City of South Fulton, which resulted in the city’s fire department not responding.
This week, after the story made national and even international headlines, the offices of local government officials have been flooded with telephone calls — some of them even threatening in nature.
Likewise, The Messenger has been bombarded with letters to the editor and telephone calls from irate citizens around the nation and from other media outlets interested in finding an angle.
Letters have come from as far away as New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina and Colorado. The media calls have included those from CNBC and People magazine, as well as one inquiry from Canada.
Several of the letters have expressed outrage and been hostile in nature, while several of the callers have been quite vocal and even argumentative in making their opinions known. One caller from Florida claimed he was writing Tennessee’s governor and would be starting a petition drive to remove South Fulton’s city leaders from office.
We get letters
In the lone letter from a Tennessee address, Steve Moore of Cookeville wrote, “The concept of socialism is alive in South Fulton. It seems that a homeowner was told that if he wanted fire protection that he needed to pay a $75 fee, as did all who wanted such protection. Most paid the fee. This one man did not. The concept is that you pay before the fire. His house burned down. The fire spread to a nearby house who had paid. The fire department fought the fire at the house where the owner had paid. The guy who failed to pay before the fact is outraged. I guess he believes in Obama-care where a premium is due prior to sickness.
“The fire department provides equal justice. The guy who lost his house was looking for social justice. I’ll bet a lot of deadbeats ponied up their $75 right away. Sorry guy, we are not a socialistic government,” Moore penned.
Robert Hamilton from Los Angeles wrote in a letter to the editor: “My grandparents lived through the Holocaust and I heard their stories. What you did is very similar to what the Nazis did. I’m in shock that there are community leaders in the U.S. cruel enough to stand around and watch a house burn down and refused to accept your fees because it was ‘too late’ to pay …”
An e-mail from Paul Mateer read in part: “Has greed and money taken over integrity and charity? What has happened to ‘help thy neighbor?’ … Talk about municipal blackmail …”
William Reinhart from Virginia e-mailed: “What has this country become … Ancient Rome? Just put out the fire and have the city levy a fine and lien against the homeowner. I am semi-retired and travel a great deal for pleasure, adventure and to see this great nation. The Volunteer State? I don’t think so …”
An e-mail from Dean Counts included: “ … I have been a professional firefighter/EMT for seven years and another year as a volunteer in the northwest and I am absolutely disgusted by the … decision not to fight this fire or attempt to save the pets’ lives. It gives a bad name to all in our proud brotherhood who regularly risk our lives for others, including their pets and homes …”
“Why can’t you fight the fire and then collect the $75? … What has our country come to when it’s all about the money?” Lynne Eskridge of Seaford, Del., wrote in part.
Lana Shapiro from New Jersey wrote: “I find it outrageous that any fire department not help neighbors, fee or no fee. Business plan or no, these are neighbors …”
An e-mail from someone named Alicia read: “… Since when do you check a list to put out a fire? I do my job, then I get paid, not check the bank account and see if I am paid to do a job …”
Richard Mertens of West Lafayette, Ind., wrote: “A government structure that requires protection money be paid as a fee separate from county taxes is rooted in citizen contempt for one’s own neighbors. Under the guise of ‘personal responsibility,’ county policy created the circumstances where no one was his brother’s keeper. Thanks to this extreme ideology of ‘personal responsibility’ codified as city and county ordinances, Obion County looks just plain ignorant and mean. Immoral and unethical without question …”
My advice?
Some letter writers actually offered advice and told what had been done in their communities.
George R. Jarrett, a retired firefighter and emergency medical technician from Missouri, wrote: “Missouri had similar situations in the past. The Missouri state legislature passed into state law the authority giving local fire departments (authority) to bill for services rendered. A Duty to Act was implemented. A specific fee schedule was enacted. This applies to the rural situation. Also as part of the law is the authority to pursue legal action in court, if payment is not made. This was so that a flood of people deciding not to pay fees would occur.”
Stephen Boulton of Virginia, a retired fire officer who formerly lived in South Fulton and who still has relatives in the area, e-mailed: “I find the actions of the fire department deplorable and, because of my many kinfolk in the area, disturbing. Your job is to protect and serve the people. …”
He said cities are able to pursue delinquent taxes and should be able to do the same for fire subscription fees, adding that subscription fees went away nearly a century ago where he lives in northern Virginia. He said in his community, taxes pay for the service and there are mutual aid agreements to all surrounding jurisdictions in order to assist with emergency responses — done without cost to the other jurisdictions since they know that they, in turn, will respond to help others and the cost will balance out.
Boulton also claimed there is a position in the National Fire Incident Command structure that every fire department in the nation is supposed to be following by federal law, a logistics section that includes a subsection on finance. He said the position tracks the costs of the incident so fire departments can later be reimbursed.
“Did I stand outside the Pentagon after 9/11/2001 telling my crew to hold on ’til I figured out how the military was going to pay for us? Not no, but h*** no. We had a job to do and we did it. Worry about the financial logistics later …”
One writer identified as Sean wrote: “Maybe it is different in your community, but wasn’t this man assessed general property taxes to support the fire department’s readiness? Quite possibly the best thing for the fire department to do was to put the fire out and then assess the $75 fee and take it to court if he didn’t pay.”
One letter writer even offered to help the Cranicks pay for legal advice. Bernard Dera of Capemay, N.J., wrote: “I would like to help the people (whose house) burned down while the fire department watched. I would like to help pay for their attorney, etc. Please call me …”
Yet another letter writer claimed she had also sent her letter to President Obama. The e-mailed letter read in part: “As far as I can recall, Tennessee is part of the United States of America … and Americans could not let a neighbor’s house burn due to an unpaid $75 fee. This is outrageous. This citizen lost living pets due to this situation, in addition to his belongings. Sensitive, feeling animals died due to this negligence. How can we trust, support and honor our public servants if they do things like this?”
Pet peeve
In fact, many of the letters received by The Messenger made reference to the pets which died in the Cranicks’ fire.
Both People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) even weighed in on the matter.
Martin Mersereau, director of PETA’s Emergency Response Team Cruelty Investigations Department, wrote: “When firefighters in Tennessee let a home burn to the ground last week because of an unpaid fee, four animals trapped in the house suffered a horrible death. This catastrophe offers an important reminder about the need to make emergency plans for our animal companions …”
Leighann McCollum, Tennessee state director for the HSUS, said in a statement: “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.”
Bob Allen’s e-mail read in part: “It is disgusting and immoral animal abuse that the fire department of South Fulton was not allowed to save helpless animals in a burning home. The officials responsible should be charged with animal cruelty and should go to prison.”
One letter writer who said it was “unconscionable that the firefighters watched as the house burned — and, worse, that they allowed the pets to burn to death” made particularly harsh comments about South Fulton’s firefighters and mayor and went to the extreme of saying the Cranicks’ son, Timothy Allen Cranick, “deserves a medal, not an assault charge” for assaulting South Fulton’s fire chief in the aftermath of the fire.
Thomas Maguire, who described himself as a “free market conservative troubled by this outcome,” wrote in part: “What happened to the dogs and cats? It has been widely reported that they were lost in the fire. Many are taking that to mean they burned to death. I find that puzzling, since my understanding is that the fire moved towards the house somewhat slowly, the situation developed over several hours and there should have been plenty of time to move the pets outdoors.”
And, finally, Anna Hall in New York City wrote: “Does the State of Tennessee not have animal cruelty laws? This story has now gone viral on various sites and it is absolutely disgraceful. I live in NYC. I remember people jumping from the top of the Twin Towers to get away from flames and smoke. It is a horrible death, burning alive or suffocating from smoke …”

Editor’s note: Many of the letters were so hostile and hurtful in nature that excerpts simply could not be included in a family-oriented hometown publication. Several of the letters e-mailed  were not signed and The Messenger has a policy of not publishing anonymous letters to the editor in that forum.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by e-mail at cmenees@ucmessenger.com.

Published in The Messenger 10.07.10

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