Red Deer’s fire chief and emergency services manager Ken McMullen. (Advocate file photo.)

Cost of motor-vehicle crashes, fires always had to be recouped, says Red Deer fire chief

Instead of billing insurance companies directly, bills are now sent to residents involved

If your car is involved in a crash, or your house is on fire, you will be billed by the City of Red Deer for the time it takes emergency services staff to respond — including the cost of needed equipment, from fire engines to Jaws of Life.

Red Deer’s emergency services department has been billing private insurance companies for years to recoup the cost of responding to motor-vehicle crashes and fires.

The only difference is the department is now authorized to bill residents directly, said Red Deer Fire Chief Ken McMullen, following the approval of a 2017 city bylaw.

It’s up to property owners to put these claims through to their insurance companies, added McMullen.

“In 99 per cent of cases, it’s not an issue because the insurance company covers it.”

Insurance is expected to cover the bill sent to Erin Filer, a Red Deer woman who had her first-ever seizure while behind the wheel of her car in March.

She crashed into a parked vehicle, and was later asked to pay about $400 for her ambulance trip to the hospital, as well as $645 for the accident cleanup.

Filer told the Advocate on Wednesday that her tax money should be covering this.

But, in fact, property taxes do not cover the entire costs of emergency response, which is why the people involved are billed, said McMullen.

RELATED: Woman objects to EMS bill

If a crash involves two or three motorists, then EMS costs are split equally between them, said McMullen, since his department does not determine fault.

But once police decide who caused the crash, then the motorists’ insurance companies can have internal discussions about getting the insurer of the person at fault to cover the entire cost of emergency response — that’s up to them, said McMullen.

The fire chief noted 911 dispatchers input information about a reported incident into a computer program that determines how many staff and resources are needed.

A minor incident, identified as “alpha,” takes much fewer resources than an “echo” incident, the most serious.

Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation equipment is usually needed for the latter, as well as hydraulic cutters to get people out of crushed vehicles.

The computer determines if one or more fire trucks, containing road blocking equipment, are sent, along with a platoon chief vehicle and a rescue truck.

McMullen stressed the city does not want to cause anyone financial hardship or have anyone hesitate before calling 911.

In the odd case where somebody is uninsured and would have trouble paying the bill, McMullen said an appeal can be made to the city.

For example, in northern Alberta, some houses destroyed by a wildfire on the Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement were not insured because of a technicality of ownership.

McMullen said in such cases, the fire department would likely absorb the cost of the firefighting effort rather than try to collect tens of thousands of dollars from fire victims.

Costs would also have to be absorbed if somebody’s identity or address can’t be confirmed, or if people have neither insurance nor income, such as homeless people.

The EMS department does not keep track of how many times a year costs can’t be recouped.

But McMullen said concerned property owners contact the city four or five times a year asking for an explanation of why they are being charged for emergency response costs.

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