Charging For Fire Services, A Year Later
By Jacqueline Halburnt ~ Town Administrator
In 2008, the town of Estes Park began charging County residents for fire services including structural fires, motor vehicle accidents and odor investigations. An option is given to county residents to pay a $130 subscription fee. If the fee isn’t paid, and an incident occurs, a bill will be sent for services rendered based upon equipment usage and total response hours.
One of the most common questions asked by County residents is, “How much will an incident cost if I don’t pay the optional fee?”
It’s still impossible to say how much an incident will cost due the variables involved, such as, how many firefighters are needed and how long will they be on site?
Although it’s still impossible to predict, the town now has a year’s worth of data to share. In 2008, there were 13 bills sent out to people who did not pay the optional subscription fee. Nine of the incidents were for motor vehicle accidents and the bills ranged from $703-$2,906 per incident. Two bills were for fires: $2,299 for a room and contents fire and $12,563 for a structure fire; one bill of $2,906 was for a vehicle fire and the lowest bill was $149 for a carbon monoxide detector alarm.
When firefighters leave the scene of an incident, their work is not done. Several things have to occur before the vehicles and equipment are ready to respond to the next incident. Firefighters may spend up to several hours at the fire station getting equipment and vehicles back in service, depending upon the incident.
The vehicles are thoroughly washed. The smoke from fire deposits a residue of carcinogens. These need to be cleaned off so that children and other visitors to the station, as well as firefighters, are not exposed to harmful materials. The vehicles are also exposed to corrosive agents. The vehicles are worth several hundred thousand dollars, and the corrosives need to be cleaned to extend the safe service lives of the vehicles. The engines and tenders are also re-filled with water and fuel. If firefighting foam was used, all of the lines, hose, and pumps must be flushed clean.
All of the hose that was used is pulled off of the trucks and replaced with clean hose. This can be up to 1000 feet or more, depending on the incident. The used hose is then washed, inspected, and dried. If inspection reveals possible damage, the hose must be pressure tested before being placed back in service.
All of the tools that were used also are cleaned and inspected for damage. Cutting edges may need to be re-sharpened. Ladders that were used are checked for heat damage, frayed halyards (ropes), and loose rivets and rungs.
The Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) bottles are re-filled. The packs that the bottles attach to are inspected for damage and cleaned. The face masks are inspected for cracks due to heat or impact and are sanitized. Once the bottles are re-filled they are attached to the packs and a function check is performed to ensure everything is working properly. If the air cascade system on the Squad was used it must be re-filled, a process that can take a few hours.
A report of the incident is written. This can be done quickly for some incidents; other incidents require research of public records, investigation, and coordination with cooperating agencies.
Why is the Town Charging County Residents?
Two proposed fire districts failed at elections in 2004 and 2006, at which time the town said it would have to implement a “charge for fire services” to county residents to recoup some of the costs associated with responding to emergencies in the county. The Estes Valley area of the county received free fire services from the town for years, but the town could not continue to afford to give away these services. Every other area of Larimer County is either services by a fire district, a volunteer department relying on donations, or mutual aid response agreements from other agencies.
The equipment hourly rate is based upon the Colorado State Forest Service Cooperator Agreement. For 2009, depending upon the type of equipment needed to respond to an emergency, the hourly equipment rate will range from $65-$121 per hour.
The response hourly rate is based upon the prior year’s personnel budget divided by the prior year’s response hours. For 2009, it is $113/per hour ($315,491 personnel budget/2797 response hours). The hourly rate is not be based on the number of fires in the Estes Valley Area, but rather to offset the cost of the fire department’s ability to be prepared to respond to an incident. The majority of the Fire Department’s funding still comes from the Town of Estes Park’s general fund. In 2008, the town’s general fund transferred $921,027 to the fire special revenue account, which included the cost of a new fire truck. In 2009, the town’s general fund will transfer $435,000 to this account.
A Fire Services Task Force, made up of town and county residents, recently proposed a Fire District for the Estes Valley. The proposed district’s funding would come from a 1.9 mil levy to all property owners in the district in addition to 7% of the town’s sales tax on an annual basis. The district must be approved by voters in November before it could take effect. If a Fire District is approved, the town would cease to bill county residents for fire services in 2011.
For more information, visit the town’s website at www.estes.org/epvfd.aspx