Fire chief wants to charge for accident response

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Reporter - Jason Hibbs
Photojournalist - Justin Jones

PADUCAH, Ky. - Rescuing revenue.  A local fire chief has a plan to recover costs, but the people they serve might not like it.

Paducah Fire Chief Steve Kyle wants to start charging for some of his department's services. The fire chief presented the plan to the Paducah City Commission Tuesday night.  He said he could recover nearly $20,000 a year by charging for extinguishing vehicle fires, removing someone from a vehicle, or responding to unauthorized burning.

The chief will likely make an official proposal at next month's city commission meeting. He'd like to impose a $500 fine for unauthorized burning. Last year, his department responded to 39 of those. You do the math; that's $19,500.

There were 13 vehicle rescues last year.  The company says the city could've recovered $4,620 for those. Last year, the Paducah Fire Department extinguished 16 vehicle fires. The company says they could recover $5,808 for those. Potentially, that's $22,128 recovered. 

That's money the chief says his department needs, because his expenses keep rising while his budget stays the same.

"House fire trend has declined over the years," Fire Chief Kyle said.

In fact, firefighters are spending less time at structure fires, and more time on the roads.

"What you see fire departments do over time is become more diversified in the services they provide," Kyle said.

That's why he wants to bill drivers insurance companies after accidents that involve removing someone from a vehicle or putting out a car fire.

But will it work?  Chief Bob McGowan at the Concord Fire Department said yes. In fact, they started implementing a cost recovery policy five years and and he said it's paid off.

"The money definitely helps at times," McGowan said.

McGowan said the Concord Fire Department only charges out of county residents, and since 2011, more than half of the claims were paid, saving his department more than $11,000.

"We're trying to keep good equipment on hand to provide a better service for our tax payers," McGowan said.

Kyle said he's not trying to make money, but simply keep operating.

"There comes a breaking point, I think, where you either have to decrease your level of services you provide or find someway to balance that number," Kyle said.

It's important to note this isn't set in stone. Kyle said he's still working out the details of his official proposal, but by all indications city leaders like the idea.

A local auto insurance agent told Local 6 she didn't think this would impact insurance premiums. What insurance companies look at is how many accidents occur in the area where you live, and your driving history.

Kyle said the cost recovery company charges a 20 percent revenue recovery fee.

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