MOUNT CARMEL — An ordinance that would allow the Mount Carmel Fire Department to bill insurance companies to recoup the cost of materials and other expenses for responding to emergencies was deferred back to committee Thursday night.
Some members of the Mount Carmel Board of Mayor and Aldermen expressed strong opposition to the proposal, including Alderman Carl Wolfe, who called it a "ripoff" and "the silliest thing I've ever heard tell of."
Mayor Chris Jones said the purpose of the proposed ordinance was to help recoup some of the expenses incurred by the fire department for responding to calls without charging the victims and/or property owners directly.
"We have looked into this in the past, and we're kind of fine tuning it," Jones told the BMA on Thursday. "When our fire department goes out and uses equipment that belongs to the city or rendering services — say vehicle accidents — the insurance company will receive an invoice from our fire department, and we'll be able to collect some fees back from them.
Mount Carmel Fire Chief Austin Simpson described the policy as "soft billing."
"An individual will never receive a bill," Simpson said. "When we go out to provide services, using stay dry on the roadway for example in a car wreck, we will bill the insurance company for reimbursement of that. Not the individual. (If the insurance company doesn't pay), then we write it off."
Wolfe called the proposed ordinance "the silliest thing I've ever heard tell of."
"We've got a volunteer fire department. Hawkins County is helping us pay for it. The town of Mount Carmel is helping pay for it. And then we go ahead and pay some of our firefighters to run these calls," Wolfe said. "We're paying enough taxes. We don't need to put this burden on our people. I think this is a ripoff, and I am totally against it."
The fees range from $448 per hour for engine response to $677 for car fires, $1,461 for vehicular extrications and $6,608 for Level 3 advance HAZMAT response.
Alderman Jim Gilliam expressed concern that the insurance premiums of homeowners or vehicle owners would be increased if their insurance company receives a bill.
"I can't support a rate increase for anybody," Gilliam said. "I've looked at it. I've thought about it. I've been in another place where they had it, and it's all about getting money. You know the money is going to go to the general fund. It won't go to the fire department. When all that money goes to the general fund, you've got people who like to spend on anything they can."
In a voice vote, the BMA voted to refer the ordinance to the Fire Committee with only Alderman Steven McLain voting no.