Tillamook Fire District officials approved a resolution imposing charges for responding to certain incidents, primarily when the responsible parties live outside the district, or when negligence or criminal actions are involved.
The resolution establishes a billing policy for responses that include accidental or intentional fires, incidents caused by criminal acts, hazardous materials incidents, vehicle crashes, excessive false alarms (more than three in a year), fire/rescue standbys for non-emergency events hosted by for-profit organizations, and rescues requiring special techniques or equipment.
According to the resolution, Tillamook Fire District will affix a base charge of $250 for responding to “all incidents where a liable party is responsible for said action.” The fee is meant to help offset the cost of training, equipment, staff time, fuel and other logistical expenses including lost or damaged equipment. EF Recovery, a private firm specializing in emergency response billing that already operates in the region, will administrate claims for the fire district.
“Our services often times are requested by people who don’t pay taxes into our district,” Chief Daron Bement said. “That can be very frustrating for people who do live in our district as taxpayers – they’re basically paying for somebody else to get free service.”
Bement said the resolution was not necessarily aimed at residents of the fire district or even the neighboring districts. Its goal is holding people accountable for responses that could have been avoided through good judgement or law abiding. For example, a person who ignores clear signage and warnings only to get stuck while hiking a remote or dangerous area would likely receive a bill for being rescued.
Who is billed, individuals or insurance companies, will be at the discretion of fire officials, Bement said.
The fire district has added an option to its reporting software to track what portion of responsible parties are from outside the area. At this time, there is no historical data to indicate how often responses are required for non-residents. However, Bement said there is an estimated potential for as much as $60,000 to be recovered in some months.
There are exemptions to the policy for fires caused by railroad trains, which are responsibility of the railroad, and also for fires involving district-owned buildings as well as for fire and emergency services provided outside of any mutual aid agreement boundaries, unless the municipality in question has adopted a resolution to impose or authorize the collection of fees for fire and emergency service.
An itemized invoice will be sent to responsible parties or insurers once it is prepared by fire district officials. The invoice will demand full payment in 30 days of billing. Any amount due after 30 days will garner a late charge of one percent a month.
Invoices will be delivered by first class mail, registered mail or personal service, according to the policy. Responsible parties will be provided an opportunity to appeal or modify their bill within given time limits. Unpaid bills involving real property will be subject to a lien.