State bill will prohibit cities from charging before services are provided
Having a vehicle accident in Marion County is expensive … even more than drivers may realize.
Fees for fire, ambulance, and rescue truck services vary throughout Marion County.
Florence City Council passed a resolution May 17 to begin charging vehicle accident victims for the Florence rescue truck service.
The rescue truck is manned by the Florence fire department and is equipped to extricate victims in car and farm accidents. It also features equipment for high angle rescues, for a situation when a farmer is stranded at the top of a grain silo, and for rapid water rescues.
“We live in a farming community,” Florence Fire Chief Mark Slater said. “Any farmer can get his hand caught in a bailer.”
Despite being a farming community and having an intersection of state highways, including U.S. 50 and 77, Slater said the department uses the rescue truck approximately twice a month on average. The need for the truck can fluctuate greatly.
Florence Fire Department already charges car accident victims who do not live in the fire district’s coverage area every time a fire truck is called to an accident. The coverage area is the county line east and south, Sunflower Road west, and 150th Road north. Every time the truck is called the charge is $100 for the first hour and then $50 per firefighter for every additional hour.
The rescue truck fee also only applies to residents who live outside of Florence’s coverage area. The fee starts as soon as the truck is called, and because of the equipment and time required for a potential rescue truck service, the fee is higher. Florence will charge $350 for the first hour and $24 per man for each additional hour.
“It costs a lot to do it for nothing,” Slater said. “We have to recoup those tax dollars.”
The fees are billed to the victim’s vehicle insurance provider. By law, all drivers are required to carry car insurance. Florence City Clerk Janet Robinson processes the bills.
The way victims are billed will change with the adoption of a bill introduced by the Kansas House of Representatives Jan. 27 and signed by Gov. Sam Brownback May 13.
Marion County EMS director Steve Smith said the county is unable to charge for ambulance services unless a victim is transported. It was a previously enacted law change that kept victims from being billed as soon as the ambulance was called.
Fire services, including rescue trucks, will soon fall under the same guidelines as ambulances. Gov. Brownback signed House Bill 2119 into effect May 13, although it will not take effect until it is added to the book of statutes.
Florence is one of four fire departments in Marion County equipped with a rescue truck.
Hillsboro charges a flat fee of $350 for its rescue truck every time it is called to a vehicle accident, regardless if the victim is from the Hillsboro coverage area. Hillsboro bills the victim’s vehicle insurance provider.
Marion and Peabody also have rescue trucks, but do not charge specifically for that service.
Fire truck charges vary in the three other cities in the county.
For car accidents only, Marion charges when fire trucks are requested with charges beginning when the fire department is notified, Marion City Clerk Angela Lange said. Marion charges $100 for the first hour and $10 per firefighter for every additional hour. Marion, unlike Florence, will charge for any vehicle accident, regardless whether it involves a resident in Marion’s coverage area.
Hillsboro charges a flat fee of $200 when fire trucks are called to a car accident, fire chief Ben Steketee said. Hillsboro does not charge residents in its coverage area.
Peabody does not charge for its fire services, regardless of who is involved in an accident, Peabody Fire Chief Kelly Cook said.
The county is in charge of all ambulances and emergency medical technicians.
When a victim is transported or agrees to being transported, a non-emergency basic life support fee of $350 is charged. For emergency basic life support $400 is charged. Victims are then charged $10 for every mile they travel.
Every emergency medical technician in Marion County is trained to perform basic life support procedures. However, every ambulance in the county also has at least one paramedic trained to perform advanced life support procedures, including giving patients medication and intravenous therapy. With the extra care of advanced life support the fees go up to $400 for non-emergency and $450 for emergency transport. Again, victims are only charged if advanced life support procedures are used.
In specific cases, a LifeTeam helicopter is automatically called. The cases include rollover vehicle accidents, ejections from vehicle accidents, and falls from three times a person’s height. The policy was instituted by former EMS director Joann Knak and it saves valuable time in situations where a victim may be bleeding internally.
“You have what you call the ‘golden hour’ between the time when the accident happens and transport; it’s very critical,” Smith said. “In my opinion, it’s one of the best things we’ve done.”
However, the minimum amount LifeTeam charges for its service is $10,000.
Fees collected from these charges return to the department to purchase new equipment, provide training, and pay for small compensation for volunteer fire fighters.
“We train constantly. We sponsor training every month,” Steketee said. “We try to keep our skills sharp on the basics. You have to instill that so it does come natural.”