An increasing problem for volunteer fire departments is getting paid for responses outside of their district. In rural areas, a fire department can have a district of 5 square miles, but a response area of 30+ square miles. A response outside a fire department’s district means more wear and tear on department equipment and apparatus. Correspondingly it takes the apparatus, equipment and personnel out of the district where taxpayers pay to have the apparatus, equipment and personnel located. In addition, small departments can be challenged to staff a second crew in case an emergency occurred in district.
People who do not live in a district are getting away with not paying their bill as departments are continuing to respond to them. With accounts receivable growing larger, departments are looking for ways to solve the collection issue. People don’t realize that fire departments are not just a service but a business. Perhaps departments should stop responding to residences that have bills outstanding. When operated like a business, departments can keep a budget and finance to replace and maintain equipment, allowing them to continue providing.
Recently, departments are switching over to third party companies to manage the billing and collection from calls. The problem is small, volunteer departments cannot afford the rates and fees the third party management charges. Another way is small claims court. Departments have been successful in taking people to court, but still isn’t the most efficient way as it takes time, labor and may lead to lawyer fees. Not to mention, even with a victory in court, departments face a possibility of not getting compensated.
I want to hear from you. What is your input towards a more efficient and sustaining collection system? If a firefighter, how does your department ensure collection? We have seen departments recently charge homeowners who live outside the district with a small annual fee. Even lately America just saw a rural Tennessee fire department sit and watch a house burn last October because the homeowner didn’t pay the $75 annual out of district, fire service fee. Causing America to criticize and demean firefighters for sticking to, “no pay, no spray.”