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Tenn. Town Fights Fire With Money


Two years ago in South Fulton, Tennessee, firefighters in this town watched a home burn to the ground. The owners hadn't paid the required $75 fee for fire service. Now, after a barrage of national media attention, city leaders have finally made a change. Chad Lampe from member station WKMS in Murray, Kentucky has more.


CHAD LAMPE, BYLINE: The lot where Paulette and Gene Cranick's mobile home once stood is now full of tree limbs and small charred pieces of knick-knacks. An RV trailer sits where the home's garage once was. The Cranicks, who live just outside the city limits, forgot to pay their 2010 county subscription fee. In September of that year, a fire engulfed their home. City firefighters responded to protect the home of a neighbor who had paid the fee, but they left the Cranick's home to burn. Inside nearby Pappy's Diner there are still mixed emotions about that fire. Leon Mann was eating a prime rib sandwich.

LEON MANN: And I think anyone that wants fire service ought to pay for it. There's no reason for the people in town to pay for them when they, you know - makes sense to me.

LAMPE: Two tables away, Linda Bates was munching on some onion rings. She says the fire department made a mistake by not extinguishing the blaze at the Cranick's home.

LINDA BATES: A neighbor or somebody even offered to pay the fire and they still wouldn't put it out, and I think that's a travesty.

LAMPE: People in this town are getting tired of talking about what happened, and they may not need to much longer.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Come to order for our regular monthly meeting. If you would please rise to the Pledge of Allegiance.

LAMPE: This past week, commissioners in South Fulton, Tennessee passed a new ordinance that will allow the fire department to respond to all calls within a five-mile radius of the city. But Commissioner Jeff Vowell says if a homeowner doesn't pay that $75 annual fire response fee, they'll be charged $3,500 per call.

JEFF VOWELL: And that's the thing I think folks might be overlooking. There's a possibility that if you live far enough out in the county that you might lose all your possessions by the time the fire department could get there anyway. If you haven't paid now and you ask the fire department to come out you not only have that tragic part of it, but you're going to have to pay $3,500 for it. Whereas before, just didn't have it.

LAMPE: Tight budget times have forced governments across the country to scale back or eliminate services. Still, resident Scott Ellegood says this change is a good one.

SCOTT ELLEGOOD: And I believe that people have to pay for the rural protection. Because I live in the city, I pay. But at the same time we put all fires out because I think that's an ethical implication that just because something's legal doesn't make it that ethical.

LAMPE: The new fire protection ordinance in this part of northwest Tennessee took effect immediately. For NPR News, I'm Chad Lampe.


MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Chad Lampe, a Poplar Bluff, Missouri native, was raised on radio. He credits his father, a broadcast engineer, for his technical knowledge, and his mother for the gift of gab. At ten years old he broke all bonds of the FCC and built his own one watt pirate radio station. His childhood afternoons were spent playing music and interviewing classmates for all his friends to hear. At fourteen he began working for the local radio stations, until he graduated high school. He earned an undergraduate degree in Psychology at Murray State, and a Masters Degree in Mass Communication. In November, 2011, Chad was named Assistant Station Manager.
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