A $1,400 bill levied on a township business owner had Wellesley councillors reviewing how the fire department charges for responding to accident scenes involving non-residents.
Coun. Jim Olender raised the issue Monday night in response to the business owner being charged $1,400 after being involved in a minor traffic accident. Under township policy, residents of the township pay no direct fee for the services rendered by municipal firefighters. Non-residents passing though the township who are involved in a collision, however, must pay $350 per hour for each department vehicle dispatched to the scene. The rationale is that non-residents involved in collisions are benefitting from the services of the township without contributing to those departments.
“My point is he’s got a business here. Whether he leases or owns, he has a business in the Township of Wellesley and I have a bit of a problem with him having to pay for that service,” Olender explained.
“I thought there should be an exemption there,” he said later in an interview.
Olender’s concern was echoed by Coun. Herb Neher, who alluded to another recent minor vehicle collision in the area that was attended by police, ambulance and township firefighters.
“Now, of course, 70 or 80 per cent stand around and there’s only one person that takes over,” Neher told his fellow councillors. “But there was no damage done; now we would charge this guy? We would bill him for fire service even though he doesn’t request it?”
While the township’s volunteer firefighters are paid an hourly wage of $20.37 for calls (from dispatch to return at the fire hall), non-residents are not charged for their service. They are, however, charged for the number of vehicles that attend the scene. A one-hour call attended by three vehicles would cost the non-resident $1,050 ($350 times three).
“Fourteen hundred bucks – that’s a hell of a lot of money and especially if they weren’t even involved in anything, if they didn’t do anything there, they just showed up as they do in many of these so-called road accidents – that’s a lot of money to pay,” said Neher in an interview.
Chief administrative officer Susan Duke noted that in rural municipalities, firefighters are often the first to respond to the scene of a collision, offering crucial services, including extrication with the jaws-of-life. If a tiered response is issued by the dispatch centre in Kitchener, all three agencies – police, fire, and ambulance – show up.
Typically, unless the collision is severe, only one vehicle from the nearest fire station will attend the scene, said Duke.
If the dispatcher is unable to determine the magnitude of the incident, a tiered response is issued and all three agencies respond.
“Generally speaking, if there’s a 9-1-1 call, police, fire and ambulance are tiered out,” she said.
At Monday’s meeting, council decided that the current policy should be reviewed by the new fire chief when he or she is appointed (the township will be advertising for the position in the coming weeks).
Neher went even further, noting that Wellesley residents could find themselves in similar situations in neighbouring municipalities.
“Maybe all things are equal: where people from our township may have an accident in Woolwich. And maybe it should just be free; I mean, this is a service that we’re providing.”