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Firefighters Let House Burn Because Owner Didn't Pay Fee 2058 2058

Dthief writes "From MSNBC: 'Firefighters in rural Tennessee let a home burn to the ground last week because the homeowner hadn't paid a $75 fee. Gene Cranick of Obion County and his family lost all of their possessions in the Sept. 29 fire, along with 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's Keith Olbermann. The fire started when the Cranicks' grandson was burning trash near the family home. As it grew out of control, the Cranicks called 911, but the fire department from the nearby city of South Fulton would not respond.'"


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Firefighters Let House Burn Because Owner Didn't Pay Fee

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  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @11:27AM (#33808896) Journal

    The real problem is why this is a voluntary fee? You can point the finger at the fire department, you can point it at the home owner. But the reality is that the system forced this type of situation.

    When you see this type of conflict, you canalmost always trace the problem to the next level up in "management". if management sets up a situation where an entity has two conflicting priorities, then you should look up a level to see who created the mess.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @11:30AM (#33808954)

    Easy solution: Put out the fire, then hit him with a massive fine. Say 10x the actual cost of fighting the fire.

  • by darkwing_bmf (178021) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @11:31AM (#33808958)
    The service obviously wasn't "essential." The home owners are still alive. If they thought their home was worth more than $75 they would have paid the bill.
  • by oh-dark-thirty (1648133) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @11:33AM (#33809028)

    Animal cruelty charges should be brought, they allowed 4 pets to die...frankly I would be more pissed about that than losing my stuff.

  • Re:yup (Score:3, Interesting)

    by j0nb0y (107699) < minus painter> on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @11:40AM (#33809216) Homepage

    *Yawn* go read up on federalism. Sadly, so many Americans know so little about how this country actually works...

  • Re:Well Duh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by alta (1263) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @11:44AM (#33809330) Homepage Journal

    Agreed, this is why people move into the county to avoid paying those taxes. I live in the county myself, sales tax there is 1%+4% state. Cross into the city, you pay 5% city +county +state... over time that adds up. Don't forget property tax is higher in the city as well. So what happens when you don't pay as much taxes? You don't get trash pickup, you only get county police, you don't get some utilities, you don't get a lot of things, and in a lot of cases you don't get a fire dept. I'm lucky, there's a volunteer FD that supports my area. I pay $25. It's a lot cheaper than living in the city, but on the other hand, their pumper is 25 years old. Their latter truck is 40 years old. They're run by bubba and jimbo that are thankfully on call and live less than a mile from the station (aka shed) and they take turns being the on-call person.

    As you can imagine, you get what you pay for. And those that don't pay don't bother to call bubba and jimbo.

  • by weiserfireman (917228) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @11:45AM (#33809356) Homepage

    I hate dealing with subscription districts. One of the reasons why they still survive in my area is that we don't have authority to set and enforce fire codes there. Keeping the Ebil Goberment out of their lives is the goal of some of the people in the area.

    That said, I think the solution to handling non-payers is to inform their Homeowners Insurance and/or mortgage holder about the requirement. Guarenteed if those people knew about the situation they would make sure the fee got paid.

  • by GungaDan (195739) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @11:45AM (#33809374) Homepage

    Exactly - this guy still owes $75 for the LAST fire his idiot redneck grandson started that the fire dept. put out (despite his not having been paid up at that time, either).

    Second strike you lose, dumbass.

    And no, rural TN will never support raising taxes to eliminate this nonsense. The stupid grows thick there.

  • by pixelpusher220 (529617) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @11:49AM (#33809466)
    Uh, sure they do. It's just a different 'fee'.

    Preventative fire fee: $75.

    Urgent right now fire fee: $10000.

    Case closed.
  • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @11:55AM (#33809642)
    The first fire services were something like that, actually - fully private companies. You paid your fee, you got to put a company logo on your building. If they were called out to a building without the logo on display, they wouldn't put it out - though they would let you join on the 'emergency' fee, which was just as high as you could afford and then a little more.

    This approach did not make the fire companies popular - espicially the incidents in which they would sit outside a burning building with a family trapped inside burning alive, trying to negociate payment and refusing to rescue anyone until the money was assured. The first public, tax-funded fire service (In Britain, anyway) was in response to the public outcry about these practices of dubious ethics.

  • by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @11:55AM (#33809646)

    > What do they do, negotiate with the guy on the spot?

    This is what firefighters did in ancient Rome.

    They have a *very* strong bargaining position.

    Realistically, what they should do is put a lien on the person's house, if they save it. They are preserving the person's house, it's fair that they get paid out of the capital. That also bypasses liquidity problems.

  • by DJRumpy (1345787) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @11:55AM (#33809648)

    Why does this remind me of the health care argument? People claiming that this sort of things is optional and they shouldn't have to pay, knowing in their minds that it's only a matter of time before they DO need to rely on that service. I have no sympathy for this family. They should have been responsible citizens and paid their dues just like everyone else, instead of assuming they could freeload off the system in an emergency.

  • Re:Uh.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Combatso (1793216) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @12:02PM (#33809838)
    yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, no.. then put a lien on the house and sue his insurance company.. I am suprised the insurance company doesnt make it mandatory to have this service paid up to date...
  • Re:Well Duh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by trentblase (717954) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @12:05PM (#33809932)
    Ironically, however, by passing a progressive income tax, this guy might have ended up getting fire services subsidized by the more affluent folk in the neighboring city.
  • Re:Well Duh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <> on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @12:07PM (#33809982) Homepage Journal

    I paid my dues, and I get lousy service because they are trying to make a point? You could have completely protected my property; but chose to let a nearby building become a danger to it, when I pay you to protect my property? WTF?

    Let us not forget that most houses are built with a bunch of plywood or chipboard, and with loads of PVC; both release metric shitloads of dioxin when burned (way more than burning trees.)

  • by SirWhoopass (108232) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @12:13PM (#33810182)

    Your argument is overly-simplistic. First off, if someone is a libertarian and is happy with this situation then they are not "morally bankrupt" at all. You assume that just because you don't like the outcome tat no one does either. A number of posters have already said they are fine with what happened.

    The bigger flaw, however, is that you automatically assume libertarian as an absolute philosophy. By that reasoning, your desire for socialism must mean that you are in favor of a government seizure of businesses, houses, property, and everything else. Few people are so obtuse.

    Most "libertarians" (including much of the "Tea Party" movement) are perfectly fine with some level of government services. Perhaps they do not like some current programs. Or proposed programs. They often take the label as an effort to distinguish themselves from conservatives and the Republican Party. While the GOP has fancied itself a "small government" party, it really is not in any practical sense. And often seems more concerned with social agendas (media censorship, abortion, homosexual rights) with which these libertarians are not interested in.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @12:18PM (#33810310)

    Agree 100%. If there had been a human trapped in the house, would they have reacted the same? Sorry, you didn't pay, little Johnny will just have to die.

    I realize this is a bit of an absurd comparison, but I also believe there is a fundamental difference between physical possessions and pets. Letting the animals die was over the line. As many have said before, the appropriate response would be to fight the fire, then bill for the actual cost of the services. Many fire departments bill for cost of fighting fires when negligence or carelessness or arson are involved, so it is not unprecedented.

  • Re:Well Duh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by morari (1080535) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @12:22PM (#33810422) Journal

    Now if only the police could be brushed away by not paying a fee... :(

  • Re:Well Duh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by osgeek (239988) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @12:23PM (#33810466) Homepage Journal

    Doesn't work for some idiot who made a really poor chain of decisions including not paying promptly for his protection and burning garbage near his house?

    Sounds like it worked well for society. Lots of people are checking that they made their fire payments in that county today.

  • by sydbarrett74 (74307) <> on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @12:37PM (#33810832)
    I've seen a lot on here about the unconscionable conduct of the fire department (and yes, they were douche-nozzles about the whole thing). What I haven't seen is commentary on why this guy's idiot grandson was burning rubbish in the first place. Use legitimate solid-waste disposal (landfill or, better yet, recycling) but don't burn the stuff! Not only can it cause property destruction, but it's also a health hazard if plastics are being burned and people happen to inhale the noxious fumes. Too bad this poor guy had to lose his home because his grandson is a fucktard.
  • Wait a minute... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by warGod3 (198094) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @12:45PM (#33810996)
    So they showed up to put the fire out on the neighbor's property, but didn't do anything for him? Isn't there a law about Duty to Rescue? Even if there wasn't, simple Good Samaritan Laws would protect the firefighters...

    I call BS.
  • by danlip (737336) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @12:47PM (#33811036)

    I wonder how long it will be until we hear they let someone's house burn down due to a clerical error,
    i.e. they actually paid but the computer says they didn't. Or the 911 operator types in the wrong
    address when they call. Seems sure to happen sooner or later.

  • By your logic ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by srobert (4099) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @12:52PM (#33811186)

    ...we should all pay a tax and the funds used to provide medical care to every citizen. But Saint Rush Limbaugh says that's morally wrong because most of "those people" don't deserve any.

  • by metamechanical (545566) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @01:13PM (#33811788)

    Please, for the love of math, stop this.

    I'm not going to pull a no-true-Scotsman and say that there aren't people like you described that bill themselves as Libertarian, but at the same time most of us don't fit your mold, so please stop accusing us. It's as empty as if someone slandered socialists, claiming that they would starve to death without the government to hold their spoon. It's disingenuous and insulting, and does nothing to open up productive discourse, but does a lot to prevent it.

    Libertarians are in favor of individualism and individual responsibility. Only the most shortsighted and foolish people are in favor of letting a stranger's life be destroyed because they made a hardheaded decision.

    The Libertarian response to this is to wonder why they were letting their grandson recklessly burn garbage.

    The Libertarian response to this is to expect people to be responsible enough to pay their fire department fees.

    The Libertarian response to this is to expect the firefighters to prevent externalities by putting the fire out, and sending the fools who caused it the bill.

    It is NOT the Libertarian response to this to herald it as a victory of the free market, or some such nonsense.

    If someone in earnest represents Libertarian philosophy to you as "fuck you, I've got mine," that person probably has an ulterior motive, and is using the word Libertarian to mask their true intent. Some of us might take it pretty far, but at it's core, Libertarianism derives its logic from the Non-Aggression Principle []. I think a quick reading would find that it takes a twisted interpretation to come to the conclusion that Libertarians encourage the destitution of people that make simple mistakes.

    TL;DR: Please, can't we just be rational about these things, instead of just flatly slandering each other?

  • by tompaulco (629533) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @01:16PM (#33811868) Homepage Journal
    I think he should have been able to purchase the services on a one-shot basis, which would clearly have to cover the entire cost of the operation of saving his house. $75 clearly wouldn't cut it. Probably would be at least $30,000. Then again, that is probably more than a house in the rural SE United States is worth..
  • by SteelAngel (139767) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @01:19PM (#33812002)

    Safety and security forces, such as police and fire are functions of most conceptions of a 'limited government' state, as are roads and basic infrastructure. The state exists to take care of highly unprofitable yet necessary services. Libertarianism is not equal to Anarchy as some here seem to posit.

    What happened here is an unfortunate circumstance that the local government subcontracted out fire protection to another district because it refused to pay for it itself. In a purely libertarian environment, the fire fighters would have charged him a huge bill for the fire service on call, not just stood there like inhuman robots and watched as humans suffered.

  • by weiserfireman (917228) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @01:28PM (#33812250) Homepage

    I agree that some career departments have outrageous budgets.

    I am a Captain in a Volunteer (Paid on Call) department. I get paid $10 per hour per call. I might make $1000 this year.

    Our department budget is $135,000 per year. We are a municipal department. The property tax hit is about $85 per $100,000 in home value. Pretty darn cheap if you ask me.

    Oh, and we are an ISO Class 4 department, which less than 10% of the fire departments in the country obtain. The difference in property insurance rates for my community between ISO 4 and 5 is $250,000 per year (according to the agents who testified at the hearing when we had to replace our ladder truck)

  • by shipofgold (911683) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @01:29PM (#33812256)

    The comparison to national health care doesn't quite fit though, because the question there is whether the US federal government has lawful authority under the Constitution to order people to buy things. It definitely does not, if the Constitution is still a meaningful limit on federal power.

    The comparison to national health care is a perfect fit. There are certain services, in a civilized society, that require contribution from the entire population so that all may benefit equally when they need it. Fire, Police, Military and Health care should never be "opt-in" services...they are all equivalent in that they are services that you cannot predict when you will need them, and paying on the spot for service performed is ridiculous.

    Social Security and Medicare are also not "opt-in" and history has shown that without them our society would be in worse shape. Where in the Constitution does it state that at age 65 you should be treated differently? Yet the some people who scream about health care are the ones whining about cuts to the Medicare Plus benefits....

    I cannot for a reason think why any logical person would think society would be better if Fire services, or Health services should be "opt in"....

  • by jmpeax (936370) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @01:33PM (#33812364)
    I know - reading American responses to this kind of thing is really baffling, isn't it? They call it socialism, I call it basic human compassion.

    There was an excellent article that delved into this mindset recently in Rolling Stone []. I think it's especially enlightening when read from a European perspective, particularly in terms of how the working class perspectives on these issues differ so much (non-sensically, in fact) in the US.
  • by kidcharles (908072) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @01:36PM (#33812470)

    1. The policy is if there is human life at risk, the department responds and rescues, but only fights the fire enough to effect the rescue

    How long before they let a house burn down that they were so sure didn't have anyone in it but then oops! they find a child's blackened skeleton in the rubble. And let's not forget that in your drier areas of the country a nice uncontrolled house fire could very easily start a region-wide wildfire. Forget the Four Horsemen, this kind of thing is one more sign of a dying empire.

  • by alta (1263) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @01:40PM (#33812596) Homepage Journal

    pets fireman's life. Just ask the child of a dead firefighter.

    Incidently, firefighters don't put out fires from the outside. If they fight it, they go in. There's no halfassing it.

    If people can just pay the cost of the visit then everyone would choose to do so. At that point we're back to private fire departments. Look where that got us (private firefighters were becoming arsonists)

    It's quite fucked up when you, AS AN ADULT choose not to pay something that's about .0001% the value of your house to keep it from burning down. If you don't think your shit is worth $75/year then WHY THE FUCK would a firefighter think it's worth their life?

  • Re:Well Duh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BobMcD (601576) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @01:55PM (#33813058)

    Yeppers. Which is why I'm not too disappointed in the outcome. 'Sucks to be him' is certainly valid here, but that's about as far as it goes for me. The alternative, that admittedly would have prevented this situation is not acceptable, because it would come only at the cost of such liberty.

    People seem to think that dead soldiers buy us our freedom, and while that's somewhat true, today we're learning that burned-down houses do, too.

  • by Firethorn (177587) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @02:03PM (#33813266) Homepage Journal

    Agreeing to a contract ("put out the fire, I'll pay you later") under duress or coercion is a surefire way of having the contract rendered void.

    So how do emergency rooms and hospitals do it? Often the person isn't even concious when they come in.

  • by demonlapin (527802) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @02:17PM (#33813588) Homepage Journal
    When you get mugged in another town, it happens within that town's jurisdiction. This is more like asking why I can't get the (less corrupt, more competent) police from another city near me to come investigate when my car gets broken into at home.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @02:18PM (#33813628)

    I live in the next town over - here's how it works. Until 1990, South Fulton FD did not serve any area outside the city limits, period. If you weren't paying SF property taxes, no fire service. In 1990, they decided to offer this as an expanded SERVICE for people outside the city limits within a certain distance on a subscription basis. Mr. Cradick does not live in South Fulton, he does not pay South Fulton taxes, so the only way the town of South Fulton can offer the service is for this small fee. He declined the service, until he needed it, at which point it was too late. SFFD has no authority to bill him for a service rendered without subscription, and they run on a minimal budget as it is, so they simply cannot incur the cost of fighting his fire pro bono.

    Obion county does not have rural fire service. Several years ago a small "fire service tax" was proposed as a ballot measure to fund a rural volunteer fire service for those outside any city limits and was shot down by the tax payers. Thus these rural subscriptions to the municipalities are the only other option. The vast majority of property taxes go to fund the schools, some for the sheriff's office, and that's about it. There is no money left for rural fire service without adding a fire tax.

    To add injury to insult, after returning to the fire house, someone showed up and cold cocked the fire chief. Charges are pending.

  • by tmosley (996283) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @02:20PM (#33813696)
    The really odd part is that he apparently had insurance. Why didn't the insurance company force him to have fire coverage, or drop his policy (or refuse to pay when the cause of loss is a fire)?

    The insurer is the one that screwed the pooch here, by my reckoning. But then, this type of thing probably doesn't happen that often.
  • by HornWumpus (783565) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @02:50PM (#33814326)

    It was a city funded fire department.

    Does your city funded (garbage collection? I'm sure your city governments do something.) also perform their function in the rural area adjacent for free?

    I think offering your neighbors fire service (at below cost per another post) is quite decent.

    Can't blame them for not fighting fires for those that refuse to pay the fee.

  • by kenrblan (1388237) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @02:55PM (#33814422)
    Point of clarity here: South Fulton is in Tennessee, thus in the same state. If the responding fire department were from Fulton, the interstate issue would be valid. For those not familiar with the geography, The town is essentially split on the state border and the laws on either side can be vastly different and create some interesting economic realities. On the Kentucky side of town (Fulton), liquor by the drink in restaurants has been legal for many years, there is no sales tax on unprepared food items in grocery stores, and packaged liquor can be purchased. On the Tennessee side of town, liquor is unavailable by drink at a restaurant or by package and the sales tax on food is about 9.75%. The result is practically no restaurants or grocery stores can survive on the Tennessee side (South Fulton). Until about eight years ago, nearby towns in Martin and Union City did not offer liquor by the drink. This made Fulton, Kentucky a popular destination for dining. The sales tax on food situation still has an impact on grocery stores in those towns as well. Since Kentucky has an income tax, many people choose to live in the northern Tennessee counties but do all of their grocery shopping in Kentucky.
  • by alta (1263) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @04:46PM (#33816366) Homepage Journal

    Were you there? Do you know the fireman said fuckoff?

    or could they have possibly said.

    Sir, we'd love to help, and if someone was inside we would. But you see our boss said that if we go in there to save your STUFF he'd fire us. And he's told what to do by the city council would would in turn fire him. And you see, we have kids and in an economy like this, we're not about to risk our jobs.

    And Sir, as far as spraying the roof, all that is going to do is prolong the inevitable. The rest of your house is going to keep burning until it all falls left and you have nothing left but a wet roof on top of ashes. And then, we still loose our job.

    I don't know that they said that, but since ALL the firefighters I know seem to be extremely dedicated to society, I doubt the said fuck off. Firefighters don't choose that job for the high pay and fame.

  • Re:Well Duh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by blueg3 (192743) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @05:01PM (#33816650)

    I find it strange that people say that progressive income taxes punish success. As far as I can tell from the tax code, if I have a higher pre-tax income, I have a higher post-tax income. They're not necessarily linearly related, but they are monotonic. That's an odd definition of punishment.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 07, 2010 @12:36AM (#33820592)

    That sort of ridiculous accounting always gets me. It reminds me of the King of the Hill episode where Hank gets a haircut from his friend who is a barber on a military base and the base sends him a $900 bill for it. The reasoning basically boils down to charging him for the cost of the facility, for all training his friend had received over his military career, etc.
    In this case, let's say you have 10 guys working for 5 hours at $200 an hour each. That's $10,000. And let's say there are two tanker trucks holding carrying say $2000 worth of foam (or less for water). Let's throw in $1000 worth of fuel, so that brings us to $13,000. So far, things don't look so bad. Trouble is, then we come to the really big costs: We've got the two tanker truck at say $1,000,000 each over their lifetime (including maintenance) of say 15 years, so about $133,333.33/year. Other vehicles, whether or not they were used in this particular fire, say $30,000/year. Then let's say that the firehouse costs around $2 million every 15 years like the firetrucks and throw in $20,000/year in utilities and fuel. Then $800,000/year for the firefighters salaries/benefits and training as well as support contracts, etc. So, that gives us about $1,117,000.00/year to operate the fire service. Now, the actual fire this guy had only cost an additional $13,000 or so on top of those operating costs. In other words, they're sunk costs whether they fight his fire or not. So, the question is, does he owe 1/1753rd of that (percentage of a year that he used up in those 5 hours), which is an additional $638, or does he owe an entire days worth of that for about $3,060 more, or does he owe an amount equal to that divided by the number of fires that year (let's imagine five), for $234,000, or does he owe an amount equal to that divided by the average number of fires/year over say the last 5 years (let's say 6.6) for about $169,243, or does he owe their entire operating cost for the year and so does the next guy? Clearly, he owes something, but what? What does it cost, for example, when the fire engines are used in a local parade? Or when they're using it during training? Or when they use it for personal uses, such as for a romantic proposal, or to trim a branch overhanging their house, etc. We all know reasonably that those are negligible instances, especially if the firefighter springs for filling up the fuel tank, but they do raise the question of what the real costs should be when the public needs to make use of the equipment. After all, even when you hear about firefighters getting in trouble for using the equipment for non-work purposes, you never hear about them getting a $100,000 bill for using the truck for a few hours, usually a slap on the wrist of some kind. So, should the public just pay a reasonable rental fee, or should those random individuals unlucky enough to have a house fire essentially pick up the tab for the entire public full of people lucky enough not to have a fire?

    In other words, the argument that it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to put out a house fire only holds water if you ignore the whole public good thing. Otherwise, the cost is expensive, but reasonable for what's actually being done, not raising the price above the cost of the house being saved.

    Part of the problem is that there's a whole social contract around services like firefighting and police work. If there's an emergency, you're expected to stand aside and let the professionals work. In many cases, there are even all kinds of laws preventing you from doing their job. Try to do the job of the police and you'll end up going to jail yourself. Try accessing rooftops, getting yourself a key to override elevators, etc. and once again, you'll end up going to jail. Run into your burning house just to save your own stuff and you'll be charged with reckless endangerment if firefighters have to risk their lives to save you, etc., etc. Once upon a time, this guy and his neighbors probably would have all joined together, brought buckets of water or sand or dirt or wha

  • by gfreeman (456642) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @11:03AM (#33824804)

    Does your city funded (garbage collection? I'm sure your city governments do something.) also perform their function in the rural area adjacent for free?

    Well no, that rural adjacent area is maintained by the adjacent city government. If there's no city on the other side of the land, the city line moves out and "hey, free land!"

  • by Anti_Climax (447121) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @07:44PM (#33877786)

    Human Compassion, with a price-tag that carries the weight of law is Socialism. One can be an advocate of compassion for others without advocating that compassion be mandated by the government. I see it as a significant distinction.

Children begin by loving their parents. After a time they judge them. Rarely, if ever, do they forgive them. - Oscar Wilde