County officials defend fire department that let house burn

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Reporter - Jason Hibbs
Photojournalist - Eric Ziglin

UNION CITY, Tenn. - A local county's lack of a fire protection policy is drawing national attention but county leaders aren't backing down. This after hundreds of threatening phone calls and e-mails.

The Obion County, Tennessee, mayor said he and members of his staff are receiving threats every day.

This is because county residents either have to pay a fire protection fee to a nearby city for fire coverage or go without.

Below are just a few of the messages callers are leaving for the mayor:

"You people should be ashamed of yourself."

"You stinking bum, letting this poor man's house burn to the ground. I bet you call yourselves Christian. You're disgusting."

"I'm going to ask the Lord to put a curse on every person that was involved in that."

All of this is in reaction to the Cranick home burning down one week ago. They live in the county and did not pay the $75 fee to South Fulton's Fire Department.

So, when their home caught fire, the Cranick's were out of luck.

"The same thing has happened in the county before," said Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire. "It never got this much attention."

He doesn't understand why his county's policy is under fire.

Under the current system, there is no county-wide fire protection. Only three of the nine cities within the county offer subscription service. Those county residents surrounded by the other six are not guaranteed fire protection at all.

The mayor said that policy might soon change if county leaders vote yes on a new plan, which gives everyone an opportunity to buy subscription service from the nearest fire department.

During Wednesday's news conference, the Hornbeak fire chief spoke out against the proposed policy.

"It's not what I want, not what my fire department wants, not what my town wants," Chief Bob Reavis said.

He said people living in the county must speak out if they want any real change.

Reavis' plea certainly resonated with some in the audience, perhaps most especially Todd Cranick, whose parents burnt out home is at the center of the controversy.

"The country is fed up with this crap and it's about time everybody pulled together and gets things changed," Cranick said.

But even Cranick, who is angry at the fire department for letting his parents home burn, isn't sure what the county should do.

One thing the Hornbeak chief knows for sure: under the current system, where only three cities offer subscription service, lots of county folks are unprotected. Reavis said it's a nightmare scenario that could get worse.

"What if my town says no more? We're not going out no more. You wrecked the truck. We got sued. We're not going out no more. It's over, just like that."

That's why, reluctantly, the chief would vote yes on the new policy. He said it would at least give everyone an opportunity to get the service.

Local 6 spoke with the chairman of the Obion County Fire Commission Wednesday. He's the one working on the plan, two years in the making, and said he just now finished the draft.

The plan is similar to the agreement that South Fulton has with their neighbors, and he cautioned that in his view, you just can't force people to pay for fire protection.

County leaders will vote on that proposal on Oct. 18.

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