Obion County home burns as firefighters watch
From Staff and Wire Reports
SOUTH FULTON — An Obion County couple lost everything on Monday when their home burned to the ground as firefighters watched.
Vicky Bell told WPSD-TV that she called 911 when her mobile home caught fire. Firefighters responded but did not put out the blaze because she does not subscribe to the local fire service.
“You could look out my mom’s trailer and see the trucks sitting at a distance,” Bell said.
Rural residents who want fire protection can get service from the nearby town of South Fulton, but they must pay a $75-a-year fee.
South Fulton Mayor David Crocker said that if the city’s firefighters responded to people who didn’t pay there would be no incentive for anyone to subscribe.
“There’s no way to go to every fire and keep up the manpower, the equipment, and just the funding for the fire department (without the fee),” he said.
Blount policy differs
While the Blount County Fire Department also employs a subscription service, Fire Chief Doug McClanahan said this situation would never happen in Blount County.
He said the department’s first priority is saving lives and property, whether a resident is a subscriber or not. The difference is that a subscriber, in the event of a fire, would be saving thousands of dollars.
Homeowners can purchase a $110 subscription annually to cover structure fires, car fires or other emergency situations firefighters would normally respond to throughout the year. For nonsubscribers, the fire department charges $2,200 for the first two hours firefighters are on scene and $1,100 for each additional hour.
When another Obion County resident’s home was left to burn last year, it became national news. In that case, firefighters went to the scene to keep flames from spreading to nearby property whose owners had paid the fee.
McClanahan said the Blount County Fire Protection District Board of Commissioners revisited the subscriber versus nonsubscriber situation last year after the first Obion County incident. The board agreed to keep the same policy they’ve had for several years, McClanahan said, which is to help whenever notified.
“Having subscribers is a good thing, but to punish people to the point that you don’t do anything for them is wrong,” McClanahan said.
While as far as he knows there isn’t a law requiring a fire department to fight a fire, McClanahan said firefighters have a moral obligation to their community.
“As a firefighter you’re bound to say ‘I’m going to help people.’” McClanahan said. “If someone says you can’t do that, I don’t believe I could work for someone like that ... the community looks to us to help them and all of a sudden we’re not helping them?”
Both the Alcoa and Maryville Fire Departments are municipal departments whose services are rendered through taxpayer funds. Those residing inside the city limits are covered, but they can still purchase a subscription for Blount County Fire Department services.
McClanahan said the department has an annual $55 service for those who don’t own real estate in the county, but who may commute to work or spend a lot of time visiting, boating, etc., outside the city limits.