1. #1
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    Default Washington County, Maryland Fire Departments Bill to Meet Expenses

    Washington County, Maryland Fire Departments Bill to Meet Expenses

    Associated Press

    HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) -- Residents in parts of Washington County soon will have to pay fire departments to fight blazes at their homes and businesses.

    Private residents, businesses and their insurance companies will get bills after calls are completed. The costs range from $50 to drop off a pump for a flooded basement to $1,000 for extinguishing a house fire.

    Home and business owners may avoid the fees by subscribing to services in advance, fire officials say.

    For example, a family in the service area of Funkstown Volunteer Fire Company could pay $30 per year and avoid a fee if they have a house fire. The minimum subscription fee for a business is $50.

    The fire department then will send a bill to a subscriber's insurance company to collect the amount a policy covers. The balance will be written off. For example, if the charge for a service is $500, and the insurance company covers $100, the remaining $400 will not be collected.

    Nonsubscribers, though, would have to pay the $400 on their own.

    Volunteer rescue workers have long charged patients for ambulance services, but for many fire departments, the practice is new.

    Halfway's volunteer fire department started its billing program on Oct. 1, and departments in Funkstown and Longmeadow will begin charging on Jan. 1.

    Larry Iseminger, president of the Funkstown fire department, said his agency will begin billing because ``we need the funding and because the voluntary contribution fund drive rate was dropping year after year after year.''

    ``We're certainly not looking to make a profit on this,'' said Robert Flint, president of the Longmeadow fire department.

    About a third of homeowners contribute to fire and ambulance fund drives in Halfway, and about 2 to 3 percent of businesses donate, Chief Jeffrey Ringer said.

    At least one fire department won't take part.

    ``We have never billed and we have no intention of doing it,'' said Tom Altman, a member and past chief of the Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Department.

    Altman said billing seems out of place at a volunteer fire department.

    Ringer disagreed. ``Just because we're volunteer, doesn't mean the equipment is free,'' he said.

    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...Id=12&id=36426
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    I'm going to make a couple of assumptions about this department:

    1) They don't recieve any tax money
    2) They rely solely on donations
    3) Their operating expenses were rising, and their donations weren't covering it.
    4) Many of the people who used their services weren't contributing when the fund drive came around

    the 3rd one is in the article, but all 4 can be applied to many departments

    This is a great idea, and I think more departments should be doing it (provided they aren't tax based). as the article says, just because the FFs don't get paid, they do have operating expenses. and who should be paying for it? how about the people who use their services the most!!!

    customers pay for the subscription as they would an insurance policy. you pay your $30 a year, and hope you never need to use it. if you do, at least your covered. if not, then you need to pay for the services.

    aside from tradition (ie, we've never charged before, and won't charge now), why would any department in a similar situation not do the same thing?
    If my basic HazMat training has taught me nothing else, it's that if you see a glowing green monkey running away from something, follow that monkey!

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    Since my Son is a member of the Longmeadow VFD (mentioned above) I have a little inside knowledge. Dan's post above is right on target. All 4 items that he mentioned are correct. I can't blame them a bit for taking what I see as a positive action to recover operating expenses. I would point out that the Western Maryland area has a somewhat higher unemployment rate than the rest of the State, but those businesses that are there are, for the most part, are really irresponsible in the way they treat the communities where they are located. One shining example of a Business that is very supportive of the local VFDs is Interstate Trucks in Hagerstown. Quite a few of their employees are Volunteers, including top Management, and they do what they can to help out on a regular basis. Other Businesses could care less, untill they want something.
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    Default Re: Washington County, Maryland Fire Departments Bill to Meet Expenses

    Ringer disagreed. ``Just because we're volunteer, doesn't mean the equipment is free,'' he said.
    I have GOT to remember that line !!

    Our *new* Director of Public Safety has been trying to get EMS Billing (Soft Billing) started here for about a year and a half. For some reason the majority of people at my squad are against it and I can't for the life of me understand why. When you cook it all down - what it becomes is we are billing for insurance $$$.

    The biggest "Arguments" given for not doing that are:
    1) "But we're supposed to be volunteer."
    2) "But we'll loose donation money."
    3) "But people will stop calling because they are afraid they'll get a bill they can't pay."

    This is the perfect answer to #1 (although it's already been said here in so many different ways and ppl still don't get it."

    #2 - Statistics from surrounding agencies that have gone to billing for EMS have shown that the drop in donations (for those agencies that even bother to still DO fund raising) will only drop slightly & the revenue generated through billing MORE than makes up for it.

    #3 - Public Education & Public Relations - that's the only answer to this one and will most likely be the recipient of some of the early funds generated.
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    DrParasite wrote:
    1) They don't recieve any tax money
    2) They rely solely on donations
    3) Their operating expenses were rising, and their donations weren't covering it.
    4) Many of the people who used their services weren't contributing when the fund drive came around.

    I'm in agreement 100% on these reasons, but why limit this to volunteer departments? I known of many career departments that are severely under funded, mine included. Personnel costs can take over 95% of the operating budget. Removing 'people' costs from my FD budget gives us an operating budget less than the small volunteer FD's in the area that respond to 1/4 the number of calls. I do not know of a career department, at least in Connecticut, that runs fund raisers. It is common practice for unions do raise money.

    The town finance board, for a varity of reasons, will usually only fund what is required by law. Our chiefs’ vehicles are hand-me-down police cars, the two fire stations are falling apart (rotted wood, broken doors, etc.), the vehicle repair accounts are under funded, etc. Costs go up, funding stays the same or decreases. Raises for the union fire fighters are separate from this issue. I have heard people say that if a town agency is under funded, the employees should give up part of their pay to make up the difference. This is not acceptable and would never happen. Our union agreed to no pay raise last year and the FD did not get any increase in budgeted funds. It is not the responsibility of the employees to fund FD operations, but rather the responsibility of the town finance board to see that adequate funds are available for fire protection.

    I would like to see more fire departments charging insurance companies for limiting their loss to the property they insure. Homeowners’ policies have a clause that will pay for FD services. The cost of this is built into the premium the property owner pays.

    Personally, I would draw the line at collecting from uninsured taxpayers. The idea of sending a bill and dropping it if it is not paid is the right thing to do in this case. You never know, but you may end up with a check.

    Marketing this to the taxpayers is the hard part. Any FD that does this should have a defined goal for the funds, rather then just general operating costs. Even combine general operating with a tangible goal such as the purchase of a new vehicle, training, or equipment could help sell it to the taxpayers.

    People need to get the message that fire protection is not cheap, regardless if the fire fighter is career, part-time, or volunteer. Billing insurance companies may be a short term solution to a complex problem.
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    Originally posted by KenNFD1219
    I'm in agreement 100% on these reasons, but why limit this to volunteer departments? I known of many career departments that are severely under funded, mine included. Personnel costs can take over 95% of the operating budget. Removing 'people' costs from my FD budget gives us an operating budget less than the small volunteer FD's in the area that respond to 1/4 the number of calls. I do not know of a career department, at least in Connecticut, that runs fund raisers. It is common practice for unions do raise money.
    the reason this is limited to volunteers is because career departments are tax supported. that means you don't solicit donations. that means everyone pays the fire tax, regardless of if you need the fire service or not. think of it this way, you already have a subscription system in place, with 100% subscribers. if you were to try to bill people too, then i would imagine there would be an uproar about the FD hitting residents with a cost twice, the first in taxes, and thd second in the service provided. if you are that underfunded, you need to get your legislative council to raise the fire tax. the same goes for tax supported volunteer departments.

    N2DFire, your situation is a little more complicated, at least from where i sit. depending on your local laws, if you start billing, you are no longer considered volunteer (which is how NJ defines a volunteer squad). And yes, there are people who won't call 911 for a heart attack if they will be getting a bill. you can explain the whole soft billing concept to them, but they don't want to get a bill.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that if you do institute this type of system, you will lose most of your donation money. however, you will make it up in subscription fees ($30 for a house for a town with 2,000 houses = 60K is spending money), and in the charges for service.

    and remember, it's always been done free of charge, so why should we change now?
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    Point taken. My town does not have a fire tax, although it is not that uncommon in Connecticut. We are funded from the muncipal tax, of which over 50% goes to the schools. We had a massive tax increase two years ago due to failure to implement property revaluation (over 15 years late). The taxes here at least doubled two years ago. My home tax went up $180 a month and we actually had reductions in municiplal services. The finance board will not raise taxes, but the cost of providing services continues to rise.

    I look at a fee structure not as an additional tax, but more as a user fee. The town charges for building inspections, building permits, vendor permits, and various other licenses. The people who pay these fees are, for the most part, taxpayers in town.

    Billing an insurance company for services to protect the property they insure is diferent than billing taxpayers for services rendered.

    I can see where a volunteer FD that is dependant on a majority, if not all, of its' budget from fundraisers going this route. Bake sales cannot support a FD today.

    I do not see a problem with a municipal department billing insurance companies, especially since this is already in the policy.
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    Parasite is right on regarding why career departments should not be able to bill. The taxpayers of a community are already paying you to be there to repsond to the emergency. I am not saying that I am not sympathetic to the point regarding underfunded departments. I reiterate my statement that this is a municipal issue that must be addressed, as tough as it. This is also a reason my house (should I ever be blessed to be able to afford one) will have a residential sprinkler system, but that is a whole other thread and topic.

    I know of a few departments back in Mass. that bill, on occassion, even though they are taxpayer funded. The usual situation is when a major brush fire is fought due to someone carelessly bruning brush (usually after a past history of warnings) or teenagers that start a brush fire to "have fun." It ends up getting lumped in with the court sentence or is sent to the homeowner for payment via an insurance policy claim.

    In the past year or so there have been cases of insurance companies reversing the tables and suing fire departments for their ineptness at extinguishing blazes as well, so as I said the table can be turned in any direction.

    Of note on this is a U.S. Supreme Court case ruling that a subscription fire department may refuse to extinguish a blaze of a non-subscriber unless a pre-payment for services is agreed to by a legal contract. It has been challenged before, but never gets overturned.
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    What is the difference between a volunteer FD that is tax based funded and a career department that is tax base funded in terms of billing or fundraising?

    I know of many VFD's around here that are considered municipal departments. These departments still hold fundraisers to enhance their operating budget or purchase capitol items.

    Several years ago, my FD started a fundraiser for a thermal imaging camera. Eventually, the State of Connecticut gave a grant to purchase a camera. We used the money raised to buy a second.

    There is a difference between fund raising and user fees. However, I do not believe a taxpayer-funded department is automatically forbidden to try these types of revenue generators. Of course, there may be local or state law covering this. It is always wise to seek legal advice from a non-firehouse lawyer before starting a project like this.
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    Default Random thought...

    Majority of homeowners decide to "take the risk" and not subscribe, after all, most homeowners won't need the fire department services. No other income to FD other than their billed calls now. Low number of calls meaning less income. Ok, out goes the little firebug to raise some more revenue.


    My department is funded (ff wise) through a portion of the general town tax, there is no set tax amount that goes to the FD, we're just an expense they put up with. We do additional fund raisers to pay our building expenses and provide some "benefits" to members. The town owns all the trucks and ff equipment, we own our building. Donations and fundraisers are solicited for the building and used that way. Billing for services would not sit well with me in my situation.
    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

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    Bones raises a good point on "Who owns what" situations. In Washington County, VFDs are independent of County Government, and they own their Vehicles and Buildings. In fact, most of the State is that way. And most importantly, We want it that way. Nothing gripes me more than petty politicians getting in the way of helping people. I'm referring to the "You have to ask the Mayor if you can take the Engine out of town" type of crap that I see here all too often. I'd rather be poor and independent, than rich and subservient to politicians. And you can bet the farm that I'll always be that way.
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    If a volunteer dept. is soooooo strapped for cash I can understand it----dont like it but I can understand it. But to me carrer depts. chargeing is a loosely shaded attempt at double dipping---with the acceptions of multiple alarms going in the same building all the time.

    This was disscussed when the Dover NH fire departments chief wanted to start billing. I didnt like it for the above reason and also the fees he talked about were very arbitrary.

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    the reason this is limited to volunteers is because career departments are tax supported. that means you don't solicit donations.

    Echoing Ken's comments...we're a tax-supported volunteer department in CT.

    We still do significant fundraising. Mostly it goes to Capital items, a fairly small amount (guessing under 15%) to the "firemen's fund" for morale items like the annual appreciatin banquet and other items it wouldn't be "fair" in our minds to put on the taxpayers. Last year we did have put $6,000 in fundraisers to cover a nearly 10% shortfall in the normally all-tax supported Fire Operations budget.

    Our biggest source of revenue though is ambulance billing. That is fairly restricted -- can't buy an SCBA with it for example. But it helps a lot. We were the first in the region to bill for ambulance.

    As for the argument "Oh, people won't call since they'll get a bill!"
    Do you think yourself, or do you think people think, the ER is a free service too? The ER bill is going to be a lot more than the ambulance ride.

    I've said before on this topic, you wreck taking out a telephone pole.
    You'll get billed:
    Power Company time & materials
    Telephone Company time & materials
    Cable Company time & materials
    Towing company tow & storage
    Hospital ER, including doctors, diagnostics, etc.
    Indirectly, State Police overtime if it's a dangerous area that need the police to direct traffic around the utility crews
    Maybe State Highway for repair curbs/guard rails/etc.

    Several thousand into five digit's ain't hard to rack up to fix a pole. Then you still have the hospital to deal with.

    Another good way I've seen it put:
    Taxes pay to have the services available (training, tools, etc)
    Fees pay for what you use (fuel, disposables, etc)
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    Originally posted by DaSharkie
    I know of a few departments back in Mass. that bill, on occassion, even though they are taxpayer funded. The usual situation is when a major brush fire is fought due to someone carelessly bruning brush (usually after a past history of warnings) or teenagers that start a brush fire to "have fun." It ends up getting lumped in with the court sentence or is sent to the homeowner for payment via an insurance policy claim.
    That's different. I've seen the same thing done, when an individual maliciously ties up resources (ie, a major confined space emergency caused by 3 drunk kids running around the sewer system under the mall, which involved 3 confined space teams from all over the county), or have been warned to correct a problem and intentionally don't (3 AFAs at a commercial structure in 72 hours, all caused by the same alarm malfunction).

    Bones does bring up a good point. who owns what. if your independant of the town (a move i'm seeing more departments going towards in recent years), but don't collect taxes, then you can probably do this pretty easily.

    if the town has a dedicated fire tax that goes to you, then it's probably not going to be easy to pass.

    if your budget is allocated from the town's fire tax, then you need to work with your municipal government to get them to give you a larger amount of money to keep your operations running smoothly and safely.

    my dept does the same thing as dals when it comes to funraising, and the funds we bring in are nowhere near what we collect in fire taxes.
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    We are fortuante that any fund raising we do goes to the association of the department vs having to be used for operations. All that aside, I didnt like billing for EMS and we soft bill also. And I reallly would not want to do it for fires/MVA's etc, I feel that we are supported by the tax payers and I feel it is like double-dipping. Obviously if came down to "hey we need money or we are going to go belly-up" then ya I say we better bill. Also, any moneys generated by EMS transports go to the City's General Fund not directly back to our department.
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    Default Firefighter Fees Catching On Around the Country, Even With Volunteers

    Firefighter Fees Catching On Around the Country, Even With Volunteers

    DAVID DISHNEAU
    Associated Press

    HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) -- Firefighters around the country are increasingly billing victims for putting out flames despite resistance from those who say such fees conflict with the mission of the largely volunteer fire service.

    Municipal and volunteer fire companies are following the lead of ambulance companies, which began implementing fees about 15 years ago, said Robert Holdsworth, whose firm handles billing for both ambulance and fire companies, including three volunteer fire units in western Maryland.

    ``A lot of new fire billing companies are popping up. We're starting to trip over them,'' said Holdsworth, president of Holdsworth, Pelton & Associates Inc. of East Berlin, Conn.

    Firefighter billing is most prevalent in the West and Southwest but the practice is spreading, Holdsworth said Monday. Earlier this year, firefighters in Dayton, Ohio, and Kingwood, W.Va., started billing for their services.

    In Washington County in Maryland, the Halfway, Funkstown and Longmeadow volunteer fire companies are just setting up for billing, The (Hagerstown) Herald-Mail reported Sunday. Their fees range from $50 to deliver a pump for a flooded basement to $1,000 for extinguishing a house fire.

    Members of the companies said the fees are to make up for declines in voluntary contributions in recent years.

    The Washington County government hasn't formally endorsed the practice; it doesn't have to, since it doesn't control volunteer fire companies. But Gregory I. Snook, president of the Board of County Commissioners, said the commissioners have encouraged firefighter billing as an alternative to burdening taxpayers.

    ``It's critical to these companies. They receive just limited funding from the county for their operation,'' Snook said. He said the county pays utility costs and vehicle insurance premiums for all the volunteer units.

    Some volunteers object to the practice. Thomas Altman, president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association, said his company, the Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Department, gets all the money it needs from donations, carnivals, barbecues, bingo and tip jars, a legal type of gambling.

    ``We have trouble understanding how a volunteer needs to be paid for his services,'' Altman said.

    He acknowledged that other fire companies in the county might have different needs. But if a volunteer unit demands money for its services, ``it's time to name it something else,'' Altman said.

    Leonard King, secretary of the Maryland State Firemen's Association, said he knew of no other fire companies in the state charging fees for their services.

    Of the nation's 1.1 million firefighters, nearly 785,000, or 71 percent are volunteers, according to the International Association of Fire Chiefs in Fairfax, Va.

    http://cms.firehouse.com/content/art...Id=12&id=36484
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