Thanks in part to the industry's lobbying, 10 states have placed some limits on such collections: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and -- after Jay Middleton's fender-bender -- Pennsylvania.
But Pennsylvania's law only prevents police departments -- not fire departments -- from charging fees.
Paula Callahan said she was shocked when she received a bill from the Irwin, Pa., Fire Department for $1,576 for responding to an accident in which his car was totaled.
Itemized charges on the bill included $50 for brooms, $50 for shovels and $175 for traffic cones, she told WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh.
"I was floored. First of all, what broom costs $50? Shovel $50?" said Callahan. "I think that's outrageous. It's a volunteer fire department. They show up at the scene whether you call them or not."
Irwin Fire Chief Justin Mochar told WTAE that "the $50 for shovels comes prorated. I mean, obviously, if you break equipment it needs replaced." He conceded, "It's a shock at first, but as you can see, I can point you to that truck. That truck is $1.2 million with all the equipment on it."
Still, some municipalities have backed off imposing such charges after complaints. New Yorkers will have a chance to weigh in on Mayor Bloomberg's proposal at a public hearing next month.