A northwest Tennessee town is being consumed by an angry debate over a local subscription-only fire-department policy, reports Time. Three weeks ago, an elderly couple in Obion County lost their trailer and four pets when firefighters refused to extinguish a fire there. They lived in a rural area without its own fire department, so five surrounding municipalities respond as needed, with three others responding only to subscribers. Gene and Pauline Cranick had forgotten to pay an annual $75 subscription fee for rural fire protection – so the South Fulton Fire Department helped only the Cranicks’ neighbors, who were paid subscribers. The International Association of Fire Fighters has condemned the fire department’s inaction as “incredibly irresponsible.” Pundits painted the family as victims of Tea Party politics or, alternately, as freeloaders.
Over the objections of firefighters and many residents, the Obion County commission voted 15 to 3 Monday to expand subscription-based service throughout the county. Beginning July 2011, all fire departments in the area – including the five that have answered calls at no charge for the past three decades – will require residents to pay the annual fee. Fire chief Bob Reavis of Hornbeak, one of the municipalities in the county, had opposed the expansion of the “pay to spray” policy, arguing that more houses would burn. But the county’s mayor, Benny McGuire, said that only one-third of Obion County (which is 555 square miles and has a population of 32,450) had access to rural service before Monday’s vote and that the commission’s move will extend protection to everyone, albeit at a price.