The Tennessee house fire: The tales of Good and Bad Samaritans

According to this AP report, Gene and Paulette Cranick forgot to pay their $75 fire protection fee and the local fire department let their house burn to the ground.

Paulette Cranick said they had paid the fee in the past, although sometimes late, but it slipped their mind this year.

I have forgotten my yearly car registration before and paid extra for my attention deficit. I have forgotten other things too, but right now I forget what they were. So I can believe the Cranicks forgot to pay the fee.

I have a harder time believing the justifications for failing to extinguish the blaze. Some say the Cranicks didn’t pay the fee so they should accept the consequences. If you do the crime, you have to do the time, the thinking goes. Something just seems wrong about that. At risk of age stereotyping, I will bring in the fact that the Cranicks are in their upper 60s and certain memory functions show some wear and tear years before that time of life. For instance, some days, I have trouble remembering what I had for lunch. I can only imagine trying to remember if I paid a yearly bill for something as basic as fire protection.

So I would have been willing to cut them some slack and put out the fire, perhaps charging them for the real costs of the trip. Their animals might have been saved and the local authorities would have been reimbursed for their actual costs.

However, other people are not buying it. Bryan Fischer at the American Family Association brought religion into the situation by writing two columns saying Jesus would have let the house burn down. I doubt that, but thinking about Jesus reminded me of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Then I thought that the story might have gone a little differently if Bryan Fischer had been telling the tale. First, the real thing from Luke 25-37.

25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

 26“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

 27He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

 28“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

 29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

 30In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

 36“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

 37The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Now, let me break in where the Samaritan finds the hapless fellow on the side of the road and suggest how it might have gone with Fischer’s “muscular Christianity.”

33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he called out to him,

“Are you ok?” The Samaritan replied

The man replied, “No, I have been badly hurt by the attack of the robbers.”

Sizing up the situation, the Samaritan man asked “Have you paid your taxes?”

“What?” The wounded man groaned.

“Have you paid your taxes? You know, the ones which help pay for police protection and rescue services?” The Samaritan demanded.

“No, sir, I forgot to pay them. I paid them last year but forgot to pay them this year,” the man whispered, his breathing labored.

“I see. Well, that is too bad. In that case, my advice to you is to man up and accept the situation.” And the Samaritan man went on his way.

And everybody marveled and scratched their head at his teachings.

Which Samaritan was the neighbor?

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  • Mary

    I doubt any decent person would let the house burn down. However, as a paid civil servant, I would be reluctant to put out a fire on an unpaid consumer because the city, county etc… might make me pay for it. I would have called every person in a position to waive that responsibility.

  • Unfortunately there have been a number of court decisions that have prevented fire departments from recouping any costs in such cases.

    In all previous situations, the fire department in question did put out the fire. But when they presented a bill, were told to go whistle for the money, and the courts backed that up. The fire department was told that next time, they should let the fire burn.

    So, for the first time, they did.

    There’s history here, and it’s not a matter of forgetfulness, but someone making a deliberate decision not to pay. Why should they? The county they’re in decided not to raise taxes by 1.8% to pay the neighbouring county to provide fire services, to leave it up to individual residents to decide to be covered or not. They figured that the other county would put out the fire anyway, no need to pay.

    Do we condemn the New York Fire Department for not saving this property? Or the LA one? So why expect another county to do it?

    But yes, they should have put out the fire if they were on the spot, legalities be damned. Be they NY, LA, or whoever. Just remember – they could be sued for any damage they did to the house while doing that. That’s happened too, with such unauthorised intervention in the past.

    I have to blame, not the firefighters, but all those responsible in the past for putting them in this invidious legal situation.

  • Mary

    I have to blame, not the firefighters, but all those responsible in the past for putting them in this invidious legal situation.

    I do too. If I had a family, a career to worry about, etc…etc… I would do what I was told to do or not do. Times are tough – very tough. And people have become litigious monsters at the expense of other people’s kindness.

    Good Samaritan laws apply when someone is obviously in need of medical attention. The responder is released of liability (in most cases) if they attempt to help.

  • Bryan Fischer, as “everybody-but-Tony-Perkins” knows, is a firm Christofascist. He also said that since letting the house burn down was “the Christian thing to do” it was therefore the right thing to do. Fischer will not rest until the country is “Christian Only” and it is his kind of compassion-less Christianity (if there is such a thing). However, we should all be concerned about Glenn Beck’s definition of compassion, since more people listen to him and claim he’s their hero. He went so far as to mock the Cranick family and poke fun at their house burning down.

    If someone had died in the fire due to the inactivity of the fire department, the would be a federal investigation and a flurry of laws against “subscription” services. As it stands, only five pets were killed. The Humane Society is now being reviled by Beck & Co. for criticizing the fire department.

    Compassion, it seems, is under siege.

    I composed a gif on this very subject Use it if you want to.

    Thanks for a solid, insightful, and compassionate read.