Steffanie Rivers

The website for Obion, Tennessee– population 1,137 – says it’s “a good place to live for young families, seniors and those in between.” But if your house is located outside the city limits and it catches fire and you haven’t paid the $75 annual fee to the city fire department there’s no need to call 9-1-1: Nobody is coming to save your property. Last week Vicky Bell learned that lesson the hard way. Her mobile home caught fire, so naturally she called 9-1-1. Initially two fire departments responded, because Bell’s home is near the Tennessee/Kentucky state line and fire fighters weren’t sure exactly where the fire was or who had jurisdiction. When they realized it was in Obion Countyand the Bell family had not paid a $75 fire fee Obion city firefighters were told to disregard the call just two blocks from the burning home. So they did. Witnesses told news reporters they could see fire trucks parked by the roadside as the home burned to the ground.

This isn’t the first time the fire department denied service to a resident in an emergency situation. Last year it happened to Gene Cranick when his house caught fire and he too had failed to pay the $75 service charge. Mayor David Crocker has taken the ‘tough love’ approach saying, in essence, denying service to non-subscribers is an incentive for other county residents to pay the fee. Clearly he is not the sentimental type. There is no county fire department in Obion. And at least twice residents there have voted down a referendum to raise taxes to pay for city fire department services in their jurisdiction.

In a town of 1,137 residents I’m sure every dollar is counted, but allowing somebody’s home to burn down because they didn’t pay a fee is not the answer. Even Tennessee residents who are not U.S.citizens receive emergency care services and vaccinations, because it’s the civil thing to do. And whose job is it to put 9-1-1 callers on hold in the middle of an emergency while it’s confirmed whether or not they are paid up on their fees before help is dispatched? Even though the mayor claimed nobody would be left to perish in a burning house who is to say whether lives are at risk when  residents are forced to try to rescue their belongings and themselves because the fire department refuses to respond.

If the fire fee is needed to pay for salaries and equipment – and residents (obviously) have had trouble paying the fee – why not add it to monthly utilities or another recurring bill that residents don’t have to approve by majority vote? Maybe the mayor should ask the telephone company how to pad a bill with service charges. They’ve been doing it for a hundred years and getting away with it! Think, people, think. Anything is better than leaving residents without this emergency service.

If nobody in leadership there is smart enough to figure this out, maybe residents should stop paying all of their city and county taxes. That way, local politicians will quit working for lack of payment and residents can start over with new leadership who are creative and more resourceful.

Steffanie Rivers is a freelance journalist. Send your comments, questions and appearance inquiries to Steffanie at [email protected].