Obion, Tennessee: the story of Gene Cranick and an un-paid fire fighting fee

On the afternoon of September 30, a fire destroyed Gene Cranick's home in Obion County, Tennessee. The fire department was on-hand before the fire became un-controllable, but didn't move to extinguish it. It turns out, firefighters arrived because Mr. Cranick's neighbor paid his annual rural fire service fee guaranteeing his home protection. Mr. Cranick had not.

Obion County has no fire fighting service for rural areas. The closest fire department, South Fulton, is barely kept afloat by city taxes and does not have the funds to extend its service to county residents living in rural areas – unless they are able to pay.

In FY2010, Tennessee, like 47 other states, reeled from significant budget deficits. In Tennessee's case, the state had to cut $1.1 billion from a roughly $10 billion 2010 budget. At the same time, like every other state in the country, Tennessee had fewer federal dollars come into the state between 2009 and 2010 due – in part – to the ebbing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Specifically, Tennessee lost 13.5% or $1.5 million in federal revenue.

In turn, Tennessee cut programs and services – including Medicaid, child health, nursing services for adults with disabilities, higher education funding and nearly 5% of its state workforce. It's the third year for such cuts and Tennessee is well-past the fat and on to the bone. It's almost certain that – in light of such significant program loss – folks in Tennessee never conceived of allocating more money for a fire safety net. It's too far down the priority list.

Reports of September 30 indicate that several distraught firefighters went home in tears after seeing Gene Cranick's home burn to the ground, killing the family's cats and dogs. And, later the same day, Mr. Cranick son Tim assaulted the Fire Chief, David Wilds sending Wilds to the hospital and resulting in a felony charge and incarceration for the younger Cranick.

This is a cautionary budget tale if ever there was one. As our nation's social safety net continues to erode, there's sure to be another Obion, and another, and another.