JACKSON COUNTY, W.Va. — West Virginia State Code 7-1-3d permits volunteer fire departments to bill up to $500 for certain services unless hazardous materials are involved. Hazardous materials billing is handled under separate statute and involves higher fees.
On March 22, the Jackson County Commission approved a resolution to allow all five fire departments in the county to bill for services rendered under the provisions of 7-1-3d. Although all five departments apparently signed off that they supported billing, not every department is planning to exercise the right. As of this writing, only one department has elected to bill for services.
The opening paragraph of the resolution drafted by county attorney Eric Holmes states “all Jackson County, West Virginia, fire departments have unanimously requested that the Jackson County Commission allow billing for services rendered pursuant to the authority granted by West Virginia Code 7-1-3d.”
It wasn't a unified request by all the departments in the county. Rather, the issue was brought forth by a single chief in the county, David Brubaker, of the Ripley Volunteer Fire Department, and the Jackson County Commission sought a consensus in writing from each department on the right to bill.
After Brubaker brought the matter before the commission, commissioners had Holmes draft a letter to each department asking if they would support billing. The commission received affirmative responses from all five departments stating that they support the allowing of billing. Commissioners approved the resolution, which includes among other stipulations, that bills be itemized and each department must submit a rate structure to be approved by the county commission before billing can begin.
Although he signed off on the consensus to request the approval to bill from the county commission, Chief Michael Morrison of the Cottageville Volunteer Fire Department said his department does not plan to bill at this time and enacting a billing rate has not been discussed under his administration.
"What happened was one department approached the county, but the commission said they wouldn't do anything unless all the departments signed off on it," Morrison said. "We're not planning to do it right now. It hasn't been discussed. I can't say what might happen in the future."
Silverton fire Chief Jason Baltic insists his department has no intention whatsoever of billing for services.
“The way I understand it, of all five departments, the only one wanting to do it is Ripley,” Baltic said. “I’m not against the other departments billing, but we’re not going to do it.”
Ravenswood fire Chief Terry Drennen said there are no plans for his department to begin billing for services as a common practice. He said a large loss or damage of equipment would be the only type of circumstance in which his department would seek to recoup expenses.
“I’m not planning to do it here in Ravenswood unless we lose three sets of bunker gear or something,” Drennen said.
According to Holmes’ resolution, “West Virginia Code 7-1-3d provides in pertinent part that, “Any county commission may authorize volunteer fire companies or paid fire departments to charge reasonable reimbursement fees for personnel and equipment used in performing firefighting services, victim rescue or cleanup of debris or hazardous materials by department personnel.”
The state law and Holmes’ resolution go on to state that fee rate structures must be approved by the county commission. All of the county’s fire departments are being asked to submit rate structures for approval.
“The rate for any such fees to be charged to property owners or other persons responsible or liable for payment for such services must be approved by the county commission and must be reasonable, provided however, that no fee for any single incident or accident shall exceed five hundred dollars, except an incident or accident involving hazardous materials,” according to state law and Holmes’ resolution.
According to the legislation, fire bills must be in writing and itemized by specific service rendered and the rate for each service. “Each Jackson County Volunteer fire department shall submit a rate structure for services to the commission for approval with the express understanding that no fee shall exceed $500 with the exception of incidents or accidents involving hazardous materials,” Holmes’ resolution states.
Once their rate structures are approved, county departments may then begin billing for their services.
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