Placer County Fire to bill insurers for auto crash call-outs?

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County has plans to get a cut of insurance money available when out-of-area motorists cause accidents inside its fire department’s boundaries. Under a proposal to be considered Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, Placer County Fire crews rolling on accidents would be in line to collect fees for services through insurance companies. The fees are already built into most auto insurance policies and Placer Fire would be charging a standard $400 for the presence of one fire engine and three firefighters at the scene of an accident. From there, fees rise as more services are utilized. Putting out a car fire would boost the fee another $110. If a victim has to be extricated from a wreck, insurance companies would have to pay another $1,055. If a helicopter evacuation occurs, Cal Fire would add another $400 for using more personnel and equipment to secure a landing zone. Placer County Fire provides direct service in North Auburn, Ophir, Christian Valley and Bowman in the Auburn area and several other communities elsewhere in the county. Areas not covered by the district – and whose residents would be paying fees through insurance if they cause an accident in the Placer Fire coverage area – include Auburn, Roseville, Penryn, Foresthill, Colfax, Loomis, Newcastle and Placer Hills. All those districts already charge their own fees to insurance companies. The city of Auburn is one of the few in the county that does not. The county, which responds to calls along Interstate 80, Highway 49 and Highway 65, would be able to recover an estimated $120,000 in the first year the new fee is in place. The board will consider the fee proposal and a recommendation that a private company, Fire Recovery USA, serve as fee collector the first year it’s in place. Fire Recovery will charge 17 percent of all fees collected during the first six months and then 20 percent for the other six months of a one-year contract. Rui Cunha, Office of Emergency Services program manager, said there is no intention to bill individuals. If someone doesn’t have insurance they won’t be billed, he said. While the potential to collect the fee has been available to the county and its fire department for several years, it is only doing so now because of the increased need for revenues, Cunha said. “We do tend to be slow in asking folks to pay more,” Cunha said. “We tend to cut costs. That’s been our history. But the question is whether taxpayers should continue to supplement non-tax-paying residents?” With major thoroughfares in its coverage area, Placer Fire goes to predominantly more accidents caused by out-of-area drivers. Of the 529 calls Placer Fire responded to in 2009, 370 were to accidents caused by non-residents, according to county statistics. Cunha said that the county expects to recoup costs from about 65 percent of accidents caused by out-of-area motorists. Auburn-area Supervisors Jim Holmes said the move makes sense to him. “Local fire districts have faced significant financial challenges and it isn’t fair to the taxpayers within the fire districts to cover all costs of motor-vehicle accident response, particularly when the at-fault person lives in another area,” Holmes said.