-Tennessee--A small rural community in western Tennessee is outraged and the fire chief is nursing a black eye after firefighters stood by and watched a mobile home burn to the ground because the homeowner hadn't paid a $75 municipal fee.
South Fulton city firefighters -- equipped with trucks, hoses and other firefighting equipment -- didn't intervene to save Gene Cranick's doublewide trailer home when it caught fire last week. But they did arrive on the scene to protect the house of a neighbor, who had paid his fire subscription fee.
"I just forgot to pay my $75," Cranick told ABC News. "I did it last year, the year before. ... It slipped my mind."
Later that day, Cranick's son Timothy went to the fire station to complain, and punched the fire chief in the face.
"He just cold-cocked him," Police Chief Andy Crocker told the Union City Daily Messenger. The younger Cranick was arrested and charged with felony aggravated assault, and South Fulton Fire Chief David Wilds was treated and released from a hospital, Crocker said.
Firefighters in South Fulton city are under orders to respond only to fire calls within their city limits, as well as to surrounding Obion County, but only to homes there where people have signed up for a fire subscription service.
Because Cranick hadn't paid his fee, firefighters doused the border of his neighbor's property to protect that house in case the flames spread, but wouldn't help him. He lost all his possessions, plus three dogs and a cat.
"They could have been saved if they had put water on it, but they didn't do it," Cranick told MSNBC.
The fire began when Cranick's grandson set fire to some trash near the house, and the flames leapt up. Cranick said he told the 911 operator that he'd pay whatever fee was necessary, but it was too late.
"I have no problem with the way any of my people handled the situation. They did what they were supposed to do," South Fulton City Manager Jeff Vowell told the Messenger. "It's a regrettable situation any time something like this happens."
But one firefighting expert said the fee system isn't fair to homeowners or firefighters.
"Professional, career firefighters shouldn't be forced to check a list before running out the door to see which homeowners have paid up," Harold Schatisberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said in statement excerpted by MSNBC. "They get in their trucks and go."