In Obion County Tennessee, a family living in a rural area’s house burned to the ground. While this is tragic, the reason it burnt to the ground is even more disheartening. There is no proper fire department for this rural area, so the closest city offers it’s fire services for an annual fee of $75 to offset costs. This family had forgotten to pay this fee, so the fire department was told to let the house burn. Yes, thousands of dollars of damage over a $75 oversight.

The fire department was on site, in case any neighbors’ (who incidentally had paid this fee) homes caught fire. According to the story, the owner of the burning house offered to pay on the spot in order to save his home. It was refused. Now this family is living in a camper on their charred lot waiting for their insurance to help them rebuild their lives.

After reading this story, I couldn’t help but think back to the times of the fire brigades when it was a matter of community pride and communal good will to help salvage the property of others. How did we get here? What kind of leadership does it take to make these kinds of decisions? The argument from the mayor was that if people paid for it on the spot, they would only pay if their house was on fire. Really?

I have to wonder where else the facade of professionalization has brought about the death of communal good will. Were there no leaders on the fire department who would step up and do the right thing even if it wasn’t “permitted”? Sure the fire department has to offset their expenditures and it’s a money balance, but couldn’t the account be settled after some attempt was made to salvage someone’s home?

I’m left with the gnawing question of “How many times do we allow people’s lives to go up in flames for the sake of following procedure?” The answer makes me nauseous. We give more credibility and honor to inanimate processes than we do human beings and then have the audacity to justify it while calling ourselves leaders in the community.

I am so thankful to be a part of the Leadership Development community because this mayor, David Crocker, is the perfect exemplar for how much work there is to be done. Where have you seen instances of processes being placed above the needs of people? How have these choices negatively impacted the lives of others?