Tennessee Tragedy: Family Had No Fire Service But Had Some Insurance

October 5, 2010

The Obion County, Tenn. family whose home burned on Sept. 29 while firefighters watched from their truck has insurance to payoff their mortgage but not enough to cover everything lost or to rebuild, according to the family and their insurance agent.

The fire chief of the nearby city of South Fulton refused to put out the fire that took the home of Gene and Paulette Cranick because they were not on the list of property owners who had paid the $75 annual subscription fee for fire protection services. Property owners outside the South Fulton city limits must pay a fee if they want the service; the county does not offer fire service.

Paulette Cranick said they had been away and forgot to pay the fee this year but have paid it in years past. The Cranicks have lived on the farm for 40 years, 21 of them in the modular home that burned.

The family has coverage with Farm Bureau Insurance through local agent, Josh Simmons, who raced to the scene of the fire as soon as he learned about it. Simmons says the insurance company would not refuse or reduce payouts on the fire loss just because the fee has not been paid. Neither Cranick nor Simmons would confirm the amount of the policy.

“It’s not enough to rebuild but it’s better than nothing at all,” said Paulette Cranick.

The home reportedly caught fire after a trash-burning fire started by the Cranicks’ grandson grew out of control. The Cranicks said they called 911 but the fire department from the South Fulton city fire department would not respond because they were not on the list of subscribers.

The firemen only acted after the Cranicks’ fire spread to an adjacent field. They are required to respond to brush fires, according to Simmons. But that did not help the Cranicks.

“It [the Cranicks’ home] could have been saved, no doubt,” said Simmons.

Simmons said he knows of one other time this has happened. He said the insurance policy has a provision for a reduction in payouts if a fire protection service has not been subscribed but that the insurer has not enforced that in these situations.

The Cranicks said they also forgot to pay their fire service fee on time about three years ago. But the fire department then did not hesitate to put out a chimney fire and let them pay the fee the next day.

Grateful and Gracious

Paulette Cranick said that the house is a total loss but she is just grateful no one was injured. She said they have lost everything, including two dogs and a cat, some precious antiques including a 150-year old bedroom set, and memorabilia including her kids’ and grandkids’ report cards and photos of her parents and grandparents.

In the middle of dealing with the tragedy, she had only nice things to say about her neighbors, the family’s insurance providers and even the firemen who sat and watched as her house was engulfed in flames.

“We are so blessed because no one was hurt, we have insurance and friends and neighbors have pitched in,” Paulette Cranick told Insurance Journal in a phone conversation from the RV on the family’s farm property where she and her husband are now living.

Gene Cranick told MSNBC that while his family “didn’t have enough insurance,” the insurance adjuster has been “right on the ball.” His wife told Insurance Journal that the adjuster was there the day after the fire and that the family has already received one check.

Paulette said the owner of a local thrift shop called to invite her to come by and take whatever she needed from the store. “I’ve never met the woman,” she said.

A complete stranger from Maryland called to offer money. “I can’t believe she called us,” said Paulette, who she said appreciated the generosity but couldn’t take money from others.

Cranick even said she understands why firemen obeyed their chief’s orders not to save the property. “I understand they have families and need to protect their own jobs,” she said.

Several of the firemen have since called her daughter with whom they went to high school to express their regrets and apologize, she said.

Insurance Response

The insurance adjuster, who was on the scene the very next day, has already given them a check, she said. The rest should come after she submits a list of everything she lost. They will do their best supplying the information the insurance company wants but “it’s almost impossible to remember everything,” she said.

Farm Bureau Insurance agent Simmons, who lives nearby, saw the smoke when he was taking his daughter to school but couldn’t pinpoint the exact location. Within minutes his office called him and he learned whose house was on fire. He knew where the Cranicks lived and rushed to their remote farm.

“I was just trying to offer some empathy,” he told Insurance Journal about going to the family whose tragedy has attracted national media attention.

He also tried to give the Cranicks a check for incidental expenses such as clothes, food and a toothbrush and to put them up in a hotel. But the Cranicks would have none of that and insisted on staying in their RV.

“I have a toothbrush,” Simmons said Gene Cranick told him.

“They’re gracious people,” Simmons said.

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