By Jack Chavez, Staff Writer
(Sept. 29, 2022) It could soon be that a $50 or $100 donation to the Berlin Fire Department will mean a cheaper ambulance ride for residents.
After the regular council meeting on Monday, officials from the Berlin Fire Department briefed the mayor and Town Council on their new emergency response fee, which is designed to help recoup trip expenses in the face of budget constraints.
“We always billed for the emergency medical services and ambulance as we’ve gone out,” Berlin Fire Company President David Fitzgerald told the council. “The fire and rescue billing is something we’ve talked about for at least three, four, five years … As the funding revenue and expenses (go), the need for more revenue and part of our county’s strategic planning meetings that we go to … most of it is covered under insurance anyway.”
Fitzgerald pointed out that house fires will get handled by homeowners insurance and motor vehicle accidents by auto insurance. It’s no different for ambulance calls that can be covered by health insurance.
“We talked about getting another company to do it but we wanted to be more … friendly,” he said. “It’s new. Instead of this bill coming from a company, it comes from the firehouse.”
The policy is already in place and Fitzgerald added that there have been no major issues with it.
“It is needed because, as you all see the budgets, the fire company revenue budget goes down and we need a way to generate some revenue. If you Google it across the county, fire companies are doing it and they’re doing it for the same reason we’re doing it. It’s to recoup the expenses that we (use) when we go out,” he said.
The new revenue will be used to offset operational costs, Fitzgerald said.
“If things change operationally, then we can probably use those funds over into our capital equipment and apparatus,” he said.
Councilmember Jay Knerr said he wished residents had been notified of this change before it went into effect, but also proposed a donation system to help both residents and the fire company out with some more revenue.
“I wish you would have notified the residents of Berlin before implementing this fee. You could have easily done that in your annual solicitation, just so they’re not caught off guard by this,” Knerr said.
“(But what if) instead of having a fee with the solicitation of a donation on the fire company’s side, let’s say $100 every year, any services I need from the fire company could be waived?”
Councilmember Shaneka Nichols quickly pointed out a potential pitfall of this idea, which could see donations shrink in response to this tactic.
“What you’re saying, Councilmember Knerr, is on the (advertisement) state that if a donation is made, not in any monetary amount but if a donation is made to the fire company, then any services received, you will not be billed. Is that what you’re saying?” she asked.
“I’m not saying that I’d do that, but someone could (keep it in mind and just donate $10). You know what I’m saying? Then they’re thinking if there’s a bill, I shouldn’t be getting anything.”
Knerr recognized that a minimum donation would likely need to be a part of any such plan and spitballed the idea that a $100 donation could save $250 on an ambulance ride.
Fitzgerald said it was a good idea and that they had plenty of time to brainstorm over what that might look like.