Fire Departments Charge for Service, Asking Accident Victims to Pay Up

He confirmed that the Fairchilds' insurance company was refusing to pay the $28,000 bill and that ESBC would be pursuing the charges in court.

"Every time you have one of these fires, it's an environmental disaster," Blackford said. "Should we make the person who is responsible for the problem pay or should we raise your taxes and my taxes?"

He, instead, blamed insurance companies that collect premiums from their customers, then refuse to pay when called upon.

"I think that's criminal. It's embezzlement," Blackford said. "They're taking the premiums and not paying the claims."

Blackford said his company would never go after homeowners if their insurance company refused to pay, but Zarich said they've heard an increasing number of horror stories about accident and fire victims being harrassed for payment.

Zarich said the Insurance Institution of Indiana would like to see the government crack down on ESBC, but has also been lobbying for an eradication of this practice in general.

"You don't want to be thinking can you afford it when your house is on fire," he said.

Florida became the most recent state last year to ban such fees for emergency services. Seven other states, including Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee, have some sort of law banning accident fees. Indiana banned police response fees in 2008, but the law did not include provisions for fire departments.

Angela and Ralph Piper certainly weren't expecting a bill when their 2-and-a-half-year-old dream house in Bryan, Texas, burst into flames over the summer after being hit by lightning.

The couple was able to grab their photo albums and rush out of the house with their three sons, but firefighters could do nothing to save the home, which Angela Piper said burned for more than seven hours.

Their house a total loss, the family had moved into an apartment at a nearby Christian boys' ranch when they got the bill two weeks ago for $14,650.

Fire, Accident Victims in Shock After Hefty Bills Arrive

"We were so shocked to get the bill," Piper said. They immediately called the fire chief to make sure it was real and found out that they had indeed been charged per truck, per minute.

"One truck, it was there 461 minutes and that charge was $3,841," Piper said. "We don't have any way to know if the charge was low or high or accurate."

The fire chief, Piper said, was understanding and eventually had their bill dismissed. But the Pipers said they want people to know that these types of charges are being levied and most people don't know about it. Fire department service charges, she said, will now be built into their insurance policy.

"We would have found the money," she said. "It was never as much about the money, but that we had received a bill for something we didn't know we could get billed for."

John Villeneuve wasn't as understanding when he got slapped with a $395 bill for a small brush fire outside his home, caused by neighborhood kids setting off Fourth of July fireworks.

A neighbor called 911 as he doused the flames with a garden hose. Even though the neighbor told the dispatcher the fire was out, a fireman in his personal vehicle stopped by to make sure, and Villenueve was billed three weeks later for the cost of the 13 volunteer firefighters that responded to the station and one fire truck, even though they never went to his house.

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