Man's home burns down; he gets a $20,000 bill from the fire dept

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Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
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Man's home burns down; he gets a $20,000 bill from the fire dept

A man's house burned to the ground, but that wasn't his only shock -- because two weeks later, he received a bill for almost $20,000 from the private fire department that tried to fight it.

One state lawmaker says fire coverage in rural areas of Arizona is a mess and he says there needs to be oversight.

"Everything was completely gone," said Justin Purcell.

Neighbors took video of Purcell's home burning near 163rd Avenue and Dixileta in the town of Surprise, Arizona.

"You could actually feel the heat from the flame.. it was incredible," said Kelly Miller.

Purcell and his wife were not staying in the home when it caught fire in August. They arrived later, only to watch firefighters douse hot spots.

"It's definitely a shocker when you come back and your house is gone," said Purcell.

But another perhaps bigger shocker was in the mail. Two weeks after the fire that gutted Purcell's home, he got a bill from Rural Metro Fire Department for $19,825.

"Definitely was a surprise.. was a shocker when we got that," said Purcell.

The bill was itemized.

"$1,500 a truck," said Purcell.

The bill shows one truck stayed on scene for six hours, a second truck was there for four. Each truck included three firefighters.

"I think they were paying the firefighters $150 an hour and there were several of them," said Purcell.

"Those numbers are set based on 65 years on tradition buying equipment, training, operating a fire service," said Colin Williams, public information officer for Rural Metro.

Williams says the rates are fair.

Purcell lives in an unincorporated area that has no fire coverage. Williams says the bill includes Surprise firefighters who were first on the scene.

"In this case, firefighters responded, they did receive mutual aid from other departments.. once fire is knocked down and brought under control, Rural Metro units provide the overhaul and do essentially the mop up, if you will -- that takes a significant amount of time and resources ," explained Williams.

We asked to look at the mutual aid agreement, but we're told there isn't one in writing.

"We do have what I call a gentleman's agreement," said Williams.

Surprise firefighters were on the scene within 13 minutes. It took Rural Metro 24 minutes to get there.

"They got here late and his house is totally gone. Then they're going to charge him $20,000 and they let his house go. I don't think that's right at all," said Brian Repp who lives nearby.

Residents living in the area pay a fire district assistance tax. The name alone implies it goes towards fire service in their area, but it doesn't. It's a county-wide tax to help fund volunteer fire districts.

The people in Purcell's neighborhood have no fire coverage, but they say they didn't know that until after Purcell's house fire.

"Coincidentally, we all received a bill from Rural Metro fire informing us we have no fire coverage in our area, so they highly suggested we finally begin paying some fire coverage that we didn't currently have," said Miller.

Thinking they were already paying for fire coverage, residents were skeptical that Rural Metro, who just filed for bankruptcy, was trying to make a buck marketing their fire subscription.

"I can categorically reject that as it being somebody's concern, however it's in no way a means for us trying to generate revenue," said Williams.

Admittedly, Rural Metro didn't market the subscription to Purcell's area until recently, because their closest fire station is 20 miles away.

"It'd take a significant amount of time for us to respond to that area," said Williams.

Highlighted on the back of the subscription, it reads, "Response times will vary." So with the options for people living here are: buy a yearly subscription, which is around $500 from Rural Metro for a service that is 20 miles away or take their chances and get a huge bill if their home burns. A third option is to form their own fire district. It can take months and ultimately a board will decide if they'll contract out fire service or form a volunteer department.

"But it's certainly something that needs to be addressed," said Arizona State Senator Chester Crandell.

Crandell says there should be some guarantees when it comes to service and response times.

"There's nobody regulating arrival times or anything like that," he said.

Purcell had insurance on his home, but it doesn't cover the Rural Metro bill.

"If there's a service rendered, this service doesn't come for free," said Williams.

"When you do a service for someone, you usually tell them how much it's going to cost before you do anything," said Purcell.

Purcell says he would have gladly paid a yearly subscription fee had he known that was an option. With a newborn baby, the couple doesn't know where they're going to get the money from.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

Rural Metro does have payment plans, but says it doesn't give people the option to let their home burn.

http://www.myfoxphoenix.com/story/23888502/2013/11/05/man-gets-20k-bill-from-rural-metro

I can't believe this! How do you buy a home and not know there's no fire service? Shouldn't that be in some kind of disclaimer you sign? If not, then why should a fire service that does respond be able to send you a bill? Should there be a mandated public notice sent out occasionally notifying people that they have no fire service?

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6561

Wow. Not sure this is a debate I want to do as my house burnt down to the ground when I was 12. We lost everything but the clothes on our back (and it was the middle of the night). I can not imagine if my parents had gotten that kind of a bill.

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

I am seriously flabbergasted. I did not think that private firefighters even existed any more.

I also don't know how they could legally bill him for a service if he didn't have a contract with them prior to the service being performed.

ETA: And welcome to your libertarian paradise! LOL

Joined: 05/13/02
Posts: 414

I've heard of a similar story. One man's house was burning, and the fire department showed up. However, they didn't fight the fire at all because the man hadn't paid the annual $75 fee for fire protection.

I can't believe no one bothered to tell the people in this neighborhood that they don't have fire protection!

Minx_Kristi's picture
Joined: 01/02/09
Posts: 1261

Just, wow.

I come from a country where we get health care for free, so the thought of having to pay for a fire fighting service is completely beyond my thinking process.

I feel really sorry for this guy.

xx

Rivergallery's picture
Joined: 05/23/03
Posts: 1301

practical note could his home owners cover this expense?

Regarding the OP..
we all pay for firefighting service ... we usually are just immune to the cost.. maybe we should just all get our paychecks in cash and then when issues accur we pay out of pocket.. or "tax" then see how much it really does cost.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6561

I do think that part of my $600 per year in property tax goes to the Fire Department. However, I do not think the Fire Department would not fight a house fire if someone was behind on their taxes. It seems like it would be an emergency room type of situation. That in an emergency they can not not serve you.

Rivergallery's picture
Joined: 05/23/03
Posts: 1301

I agree... and think as a local community they need to figure this out... what a crazy situation they are in over there.. hopefully they can rally together to pay this fine/fee.

ClairesMommy's picture
Joined: 08/15/06
Posts: 2299

I'm going to be a killjoy brat here... Biggrin

My brother's a firefighter. He lives in an (obviously) incorporated city of about 120,000. The people across the river from my parents' house had a small outdoor fire that got a bit out of control - no structural damage or anything. City fire crew showed up and put out the bonfire. They then informed the homeowners that they would be receiving a bill from the city (I think it was like $400 or something) for the crew's time. See, there was an outdoor fire ban on at the time, and the owners protested that they were not aware of it. My brother said they were informed that it was their responsibility to make themselves aware.

Moving someplace with no paid fire crew is a bit different, but don't we all have a responsibility to check this stuff out before buying a property. Like, I'd ask where the nearest fire station is, where the local school is, etc., what's not included in the property tax, stuff like that.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4100

"ClairesMommy" wrote:

Moving someplace with no paid fire crew is a bit different, but don't we all have a responsibility to check this stuff out before buying a property. Like, I'd ask where the nearest fire station is, where the local school is, etc., what's not included in the property tax, stuff like that.

Why would you even think this was a question to ask in the first place? Fire protection is something that anyone living in a populated area should be able to count on. I mean, if he was buying a house out in the hills, I could understand asking, but this is a suburban neighborhood. And if there isn't any fire protection, then it should be in big red letters all over the title papers and it should be a mandatory disclosure as a pre-existing issue on the seller's part, because no one should ever find that out after their house burns down. When you move into an area with a volunteer fire department, it's required notice, so why should *no* fire service be different? And he actually *was* paying a fire tax as part of his property taxes; he found out after the fact that it just didn't go to support fire services in his area. Again, why should the burden be on him to find out what exactly the "fire tax" covered? In a suburban neighborhood, it's supposed to cover your fire department.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6561

I just wanted to point out that not all places that have a volunteer fire department charge. The town that I grew up in had a volunteer fire department. They were first on the scene when my parents house burnt down. They did not get a bill, instead they got an outpouring of love from the community. There are many fundraisers (dinners, auctions, ect) both there and where we live now as well.

mom3girls's picture
Joined: 01/09/07
Posts: 1535

I am not sure how the homeowners didnt know. My inlaws have a vacation home in a resort type community, and when they built it they were told since they didnt have a fire dept their homeowners insurance would be substantially more. I would think that the insurance company would be all over that

If they did know and still didnt buy into the fire dist then they should be billed, it was a chance they took.

Alyssa, I dont know any libertarians that do not believe that fire protection is one thing the government should provide.

ClairesMommy's picture
Joined: 08/15/06
Posts: 2299

"Spacers" wrote:

Why would you even think this was a question to ask in the first place? Fire protection is something that anyone living in a populated area should be able to count on. I mean, if he was buying a house out in the hills, I could understand asking, but this is a suburban neighborhood. And if there isn't any fire protection, then it should be in big red letters all over the title papers and it should be a mandatory disclosure as a pre-existing issue on the seller's part, because no one should ever find that out after their house burns down. When you move into an area with a volunteer fire department, it's required notice, so why should *no* fire service be different? And he actually *was* paying a fire tax as part of his property taxes; he found out after the fact that it just didn't go to support fire services in his area. Again, why should the burden be on him to find out what exactly the "fire tax" covered? In a suburban neighborhood, it's supposed to cover your fire department.

The article says he lives in a rural area. That's exactly what I thought - out in the woods or wherever.

Joined: 03/14/09
Posts: 624

"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

ETA: And welcome to your libertarian paradise! LOL

This is exactly it. In normal communities this would not even be a possibility. But in the tea party's wet dream...

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4100

"ClairesMommy" wrote:

The article says he lives in a rural area. That's exactly what I thought - out in the woods or wherever.

The article doesn't say that; it says that fire protection in rural areas is a problem, and that's true in pretty much any rural area anywhere. This is an unincorporated neighborhood but I don't get "rural" from that. In the video you can clearly see other houses in the background, and on the map, it's an entire block of street grids roughly two miles square and only four miles from the city. Maybe I just have a different definition of "rural" than other people. To me, that's suburban.

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4116

"blather" wrote:

This is exactly it. In normal communities this would not even be a possibility. But in the tea party's wet dream...

Oh please. If that is really what you think you have NO idea of what the tea party is about. Show me ANYWHERE that any tea party candidate or spokesman ever said anything like that.

Tea Party Movement Platform

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6561

"blather" wrote:

This is exactly it. In normal communities this would not even be a possibility. But in the tea party's wet dream...

I think it has happened many times over the years that Republicans or Conservatives have been accused of not understanding the other side. I think it is true that does happen. In this case I would say the same is true for the other side. If you really think there are many people out there that think that fire serve should not be covered, then you are mistaken.

Fire service is one area that taxes are designed to cover.

mom3girls's picture
Joined: 01/09/07
Posts: 1535

"Spacers" wrote:

The article doesn't say that; it says that fire protection in rural areas is a problem, and that's true in pretty much any rural area anywhere. This is an unincorporated neighborhood but I don't get "rural" from that. In the video you can clearly see other houses in the background, and on the map, it's an entire block of street grids roughly two miles square and only four miles from the city. Maybe I just have a different definition of "rural" than other people. To me, that's suburban.

If you looked at a map or a picture of the community our family cabin is in it would look like a neighborhood, but you would not be able to see that it is 45 mins away from any town. I took the article in the OP to mean it was a rural community. I live in a rural community that was only annexed into the county fire dist about 10 years ago. Before that people that lived here knew we were taking our chances with a solely volunteer dept.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4100

"mom3girls" wrote:

If you looked at a map or a picture of the community our family cabin is in it would look like a neighborhood, but you would not be able to see that it is 45 mins away from any town. I took the article in the OP to mean it was a rural community. I live in a rural community that was only annexed into the county fire dist about 10 years ago. Before that people that lived here knew we were taking our chances with a solely volunteer dept.

But this is not 45 minutes away from a town, it's four miles away from a city of 100K people.

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

I didn't say Tea Party, I said Libertarian. All of the Libertarians I know think that taxes are theft because a person shouldn't be forced to pay for something (yes, even fire services) that they may not want, and in their perfect world the free market and privatizing all services would take care of it.

From on their official party website (Libertarian Party | Maximum Freedom, Minimum Government)

Governments throughout history have regularly operated on the opposite principle, that the State has the right to dispose of the lives of individuals and the fruits of their labor. Even within the United States, all political parties other than our own grant to government the right to regulate the lives of individuals and seize the fruits of their labor without their consent.

We, on the contrary, deny the right of any government to do these things, and hold that where governments exist, they must not violate the rights of any individual: namely, (1) the right to life -- accordingly we support the prohibition of the initiation of physical force against others; (2) the right to liberty of speech and action -- accordingly we oppose all attempts by government to abridge the freedom of speech and press, as well as government censorship in any form; and (3) the right to property -- accordingly we oppose all government interference with private property, such as confiscation, nationalization, and eminent domain, and support the prohibition of robbery, trespass, fraud, and misrepresentation.

Since governments, when instituted, must not violate individual rights, we oppose all interference by government in the areas of voluntary and contractual relations among individuals. People should not be forced to sacrifice their lives and property for the benefit of others. They should be left free by government to deal with one another as free traders; and the resultant economic system, the only one compatible with the protection of individual rights, is the free market.

I have specifically asked my LP friends "What about fire departments? Police stations? Roads?" I don't think they run on that platform because it's so extreme and would've so unpopular, but more in a "perfect world" kind of scenario, that is what they would want.