People across the province were talking about a recent incident in the Edmonton area where property owners released firefighters from battling a structure blaze for the simple fact the property owners could face a firefighting bill of up to $60,000, which is separate from property damage costs.
It’s possible some residents in the ECA Review circulation area could face the same issue if they’re not familiar with how firefighting costs are calculated and what each property owner’s insurance covers.
Village of Alix Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Michelle White stated Alix councillors recently approved a policy that defines how firefighting response will be billed.
She noted the policy aligns the village with Lacombe County because Alix is part of their regional emergency management agency; the Alix department responds to calls in town and also out in the county.
White noted that the policy states if the fire department responds to an incident within the village boundaries it will be billed whether it was a motor vehicle collision (MVC) or a fire. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a resident of Alix, either, she stated.
The CAO noted a fee will be charged to cover the fire department’s time, but the fee depends on the situation and the village will work with the RCMP to see if charges are being laid in certain circumstances.
She pointed out that some situations will be considered on their own merits when it comes to billing, for example, an accidental fire. If the total response is less than an hour there will be no charge, but over an hour will be billed based on the time the response took to resolve. In the event of a large structure fire this could be substantial.
Fees charged will cover staff time and could include special charges depending on the situation.
White stated the Alix policy doesn’t include a fee for false alarms, which is left up to the fire chief to decide. The village also wanted to ensure the public knows that medical first response calls are not billed.
The CAO pointed out anyone who gets an invoice for firefighting response can appeal to village council within 14 days.
Just down the road the Village of Clive, also part of Lacombe County’s emergency response region, passed a new fire control bylaw recently. The Clive department responds to in-town calls and rural calls.
Village CAO Carla Kenney stated the village pays an honorarium to firefighters to recognize increased training and hourly work.
While property taxes pay for equipment and buildings, the cost of firefighter time is passed on in response fees.
Kenney stated firefighters often leave their day jobs to answer emergency calls and they are always paid a minimum of three hours per call.
She stated the response fees are passed along as the actual cost of responding to an emergency.
The CAO said in Clive the first false alarm gets a warning, after that they’re billed.
She also noted that as people become more aware of the financial responsibility of emergencies, it may spur things like fire awareness and prevention.
Kenney also pointed out property owners should talk to their insurance brokers about their fire coverage, as property damage may be insured but firefighting costs may not be.
Lacombe County Emergency Management Director / County Fire Chief Drayton Bussiere stated that the department bills for MVCs and structure fires response, and an invoice goes to the owner of the property or the occupier, in the case of a renter.
The policy also has a clause that states the bill goes to whoever is responsible for the emergency response in the case of a MVC or some fires.
The regional chief noted the department keeps in contact with police services.
He noted the invoices are calculated hourly and if the total response time is less than an hour, there is no charge.
Bussiere states rather than use the term “false alarm,” he prefers “nuisance alarm,” to reflect the fact that a properly functioning fire alarm has been triggered.
He said the first response to a nuisance alarm is free of charge, but the second and subsequent response to the same location is billed
The regional fire chief also pointed out many people place smoke alarms too close to kitchens, while the alarm would be more effective closer to where residents sleep.
He confirmed medical first response is not billed by the local fire department.
When it comes to billing for fire response, the regional fire chief advised people to talk to their insurance brokers to ensure they have the coverage they want.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter