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Firefighters watch home burn, do nothing

  • Controversial policy requires rural residents to pay 'fire fee'
  • 'Pay for spray' drawing criticism, outrage

Why didn't firefighters do something when they responded to a call of a home engulfed in flames? They weren't allowed to.

The people who live in the home that was burning had not paid their "fire fee," an annual subscription some county residents in Tennessee and other communities across the country are required to pay if they want fire crews to hose down their house in the event of a fire. The fee in this particular case was $75. No pay, no spray. 

Vicky Bell knew about the policy, but never paid. She told HLN affiliate WPSD that she just never thought it would happen to her. Her home burned as firefighters stood by and watched.

It all comes down to city versus county. The cities in Obion County have the fire trucks and the fire crews. County residents rely on those responders, but because they live outside the city limits, they don't pay the city taxes that support them. In order to offset this discrepancy, some cities charge county residents what's come to be known as a "pay for spray" fee.

In Bell's case, it was a crew from the city of South Fulton that showed up to fight her fire. South Fulton mayor David Crocker says that without the fee, "There's no way to go to every fire and keep up the manpower, the equipment, and just the funding for the fire department."

But now there are calls from all country to end "pay for spray." A firefighter for Obion County says they had to shut down his department's Facebook page because of the overwhelming number of angry comments. "They've threatened to burn the fire station. They've threatened to do bodily harm," volunteer firefighter Randy Evans told WPSD. 

Here at HLN, the "Morning Express with Robin Meade" Facebook page was also filled with viewers who saw the report Wednesday morning.

Viewers like Jenny C. were appalled at the fire department's actions (or lack thereof).  She wrote: "What a horrible system! It's a moral obligation for the firefighters to help those in need!"

But many of the over 500 comments this story generated were more cynical. Melissa B. said: "Good for those firefighters. Americans think that everything is free. It's not. Fire departments cost a lot of money to operate, even voluntary fire departments. Maybe the residents of [Obion County] will start to pay the annual fee, or vote for a increase in taxes."

What do you think? Add your voice to the conversation on the "Morning Express with Robin Meade" Facebook page.

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