Home burns, home owner had no fire service

Published: Dec. 6, 2011 at 7:40 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 7, 2011 at 12:02 AM CST
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SOUTH FULTON, TN (KFVS) - A fire issue in Obion County, Tennessee that got national attention is making headlines again.

In September of 2010, the county's fire protection plan made headlines when a home in South Fulton burned to the ground as firefighters watched because the homeowner had not paid a $75 fire protection fee.

Now a similar incident that happened Monday is gaining national attention again - but according to the homeowner, this instance is much different.

The latest fire started Monday around six in the morning. It happened on Cavitt Lane, just outside city limits.

Firefighters had to stand by and watch, but it's not because they didn't care.

Homeowners in rural parts of Obion County have the choice of paying a $75 fire protection fee, but this homeowner in particular didn't pay the fee because she's not even eligible for it.

Vicky Bell says she doesn't have insurance, a requirement according to the city ordinance. Bell says she knew of the policy and is not angry at the city at all.

"I'm not mad at the city, I understand," said Bell.

Bell says she's more concerned about how she's going to put her life back together now that she and her boyfriend, Brian Gilbert have lost everything.

"We have no idea where we will go from here," said Bell. "We are very lucky it was minutes from getting us."

The couple says they were sleeping when the cat woke them up.

"He was shaking Brian's leg and Brian yelled at me to get up," said Bell. "We don't know where the cat is now."

The couple ran out of the trailer and called 911.

"We have our lives and I think we're lucky," said Bell.

Bell says the South Fulton Fire Department came out, but did nothing. She says she understands why. She says none of the trailers near hers qualify for insurance. So, according to City rules - they are not eligible to pay a fee to receive rural fire protection service. She says she knew if there was a fire, she would be out of luck.

"Like I said I'm just happy they came out and watched out for my neighbors," said Bell. "I didn't want them to go through this."

One of those neighbors happens to be Bell's mother, Treva Wilson.

"I just can't get over it," said Wilson. 'Whoa, that fire was something! It just took down the whole thing in seconds."

Now Bell says she's just trying to figure out where she will live. She says no amount of fire protection could have saved her trailer because the flames took over so quickly. She says she's thankful for those in the community already reaching out to help.

"We lost all our Christmas presents for our kids and grandchildren," said Bell. "It's really hard since it's the holidays."

The story is already getting a lot of national attention because of what happened last year to the home of Gene Cranick. The family did not pay the fee, and fire fighters watched their home burn. Cranick says he forgot to pay the fee, and assumed the city would respond if his home caught fire.

The South Fulton Fire Department defended it's decision at the time. The department and the city say fighting that fire would mean other county residents could also skip paying the fee.

City managers tell Heartland News it's expensive to run the department and without a fee, it's possible there would be no coverage at all.

At City Hall Tuesday, we were told this recent incident is already causing a stir. The city issued a statement saying the policy has been in place since 1990. It was reviewed in 2007, but not changed. If the property owner does not pay, then the fire department will not respond. According to the city, everyone should be aware of the importance of fire protection.

They also say the number of fire subscriptions have gone up in the past year, possibly due to the incident involving the Cranick's that gained response from around the world.

Mayor David Crocker tells Heartland News if a life is at stake, they will respond regardless. As for Bell, she says she is not upset with the city or the fire department at all.

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