Washington County, Maryland Fire Departments Bill to Meet Expenses

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.