Call ambulance directly to avoid fire fees small districts may soon be charging
Those who need an ambulance but don’t want the Susanville Fire Department to respond may call the ambulance company directly and avoid city charges, District 2 Supervisor Jim Chapman said last month. He said he wants the public to know about the option of calling Sierra Emergency Medical Service directly because of a recent complaint.
Chapman told the Board of Supervisors a woman who lives on Sierra Road outside the Susanville city limits, who “has had medical needs and problems for several years and has had many a trip to the hospital,” called 911 recently and asked for an ambulance but specifically requested SFD not respond.
When the ambulance was dispatched, SFD responded anyway.
“I guess under our 911 rules, the way it’s set up to operate, the fire department responds too,” Chapman said.
Keefer said an agreement between Susan River and SFD calls for the city fire department to respond because the Susan River Fire Department doesn’t have medical response capability.
“So, they arrived to her place, but because she has a Rottweiler, they don’t like going into the yard, so they stand out waiting for the ambulance to come,” he said. “But the issue or the problem, that she was really not too happy about, is then she gets a bill from the city.”
The woman told city officials she didn’t ask for the fire response, she didn’t want it and firefighters didn’t come in the house.
“The city took her to small claims court and the visiting judge found in favor of the city and ordered her to pay $500,” Chapman told the board on Dec. 12.
He added the original charge was $60, but the judge also ordered the woman to pay the city’s court costs. “So, she was really unhappy.”
“I guess,” said Board Chairman Bob Pyle.
District 3 Supervisor Lloyd Keefer said a similar issue came up in the Diamond Crest area, five miles outside the city limits, about six months ago. He was able to work it out with the city “and the bill didn’t have to be paid.”
For those living on the outskirts of the city, Chapman suggested county resident call SEMSA directly.
“Obviously, I can’t deal with the court as it relates to the finding in her particular case, but what she was bringing it to my attention for, is that we just need to let people know,” he said, asking the board to put the issue on its agenda for a future meeting.
“She likes the fire department,” Chapman said. “She thinks (Chief) Stu (Ratner) and the city fire guys are great. She had no problem with them, other than the fact that she didn’t really want them to come help her because she didn’t need their help; her house wasn’t on fire.”
However, the woman was not very happy with the city finance department, he said.
She wasn’t pleased with “the way they doggedly handled this claim and bill and took her to court and roughed her up, I guess,” Chapman said on the public record in an open board meeting.
He suggested the board of supervisors needs to get the word out “that if you call 911, you’ll get the fire department, too and you’ll get a bill from the city, too.”
Those who call the ambulance company directly will be billed only by the ambulance company, he said.
“Those are the kind of things that, as the area grows and new people move into the area, are unaware of,” he said. “They’re used to maybe in the city areas where that’s an automatic given, but there’s ways to pay for it.”
Chapman said he also can understand the city’s perspective.
“If they’re going to roll their fire engines, there’s costs associated but that’s what’s happening out there.”
Chapman said he promised the woman he would bring the issue to the board.
Small district charges?
“From what information you’ve given us, I agree that she’s been wronged,” said District 4 Supervisor Brian Dahle. “But I think there’s another side of it that we ought to be looking at the avenue to collect some revenue for our fire departments.”
Dahle suggested other fire districts should impose similar charges.
“In the county, our little fire districts, all over the place, are first responders … go out on the same calls (and) usually are the first ones there,” Dahle said. “They beat the ambulance and they stabilize these folks, do all the work and they load them in the ambulance and it hauls them to the hospital and the little fire department gets no compensation.”
Pyle said Westwood Fire Department does not get paid for emergency medical responses.
“Neither does Doyle or Standish-Litchfield,” said District 5 Supervisor Jack Hanson.
“I think that should be part of the discussion we have when we it’s on the agenda,” Chapman said.
“That’s why I’m bringing it up,” Dahle said. “Because we’ve looked at that through our little departments out there that are dying for lack of funding and the ambulance company, the insurance companies pay them off when it’s your first responders who have the jaws of life that actually extract the person out of the car.”
Dahle said districts that hold crab feeds to pay for equipment like the jaws of life should look at collecting fees.
If the other districts want to send people a bill and take them to small claims court, Chapman said, “There may be a funding mechanism.”
County Administrative Officer John Ketelsen and County Counsel Craig Settlemire said fire protection district boards may enact ordinances allowing them to collect fees.
Chapman suggested the board of supervisors discuss what it expects, how should the system work and how to pay for the services rendered, and invite all interested parties to participate.
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