The Home Fire and the $20,000 Fire Department Bill

On August 12th, Justin and Kasia Purcell of Surprise, Arizona were away from their home and staying with relatives while awaiting the birth of a child.  They received a call that night from a neighbor letting them know their home was on fire.  They drove the 45 minutes home after that call and arrived to find firefighters putting out the flames to what had been their home.  It was a total loss and no one knows what caused the blaze.

If that wasn’t enough of a punch in the gut, what followed would push most people over the edge.  The Purcell’s received a bill from Rural Metro Fire Department for $19,825 for responding to the fire.  The Purcell’s were floored.  The bill included charges for two fire trucks plus time for their 6 firefighters which showed up at $150 an hour.

Several people contacted by email and twitter after the Purcell’s story appeared on the internet 10 days ago.  The questions I was asked were:

  • Is this a normal practice?
  • When do fire departments charge for responding to a home fire?
  • Does home insurance cover this?

I was aware the Dallas Fire Department along with most local fire departments will send a bill for an ambulance / EMS response, but I’d not heard of a fire department charging for responding to a fire similar to what the Purcell’s experienced.  I talked with all my underwriters, contacted the Information Officer for the Dallas Fire Department, and researched this online.  Here’s what I found out:

Local Fire Departments:  I had a great conversation with Jason Evans, the Information Officer for the Dallas Fire Department.  He’d not heard of this so made a couple of calls and called me back.  The Dallas Fire Department and most local fire departments do not bill homeowners for responding to a home fire in most cases.  The cases where a bill may be charged would be cases involving arson or something pretty unusual / illegal (meth lab, burning leaves during a fire ban, etc.).  Local fire departments are funded through our property taxes which negates any need for them to bill for their services.

Home Insurance Implications:  The conversations I had with the underwriters of each of the insurance companies I work with were very informative.  Some insurance companies don’t provide coverage for a fire department bill such as this.  These companies typically don’t insure homes in rural or unincorporated areas.

Many of my carriers do provide some level of coverage for a fire department bill.  The amount of coverage varies widely, $250, $500, $750, or $1,000.  The qualifier in these instances is the home must be located out of the city’s limits.  These carriers will write home policies for homes in a rural or unincorporated area.  No one covers an amount like the Purcell’s were billed.

Research Results:  According to the National Fire Protection Association there are some rural fire departments that will submit a bill to the homeowner for responding to a fire.  They don’t have to be the closest fire department either, just one that has the ability to respond.  There are also some rural fire departments that provide a pre-paid or subscription service that provides some guaranteed level of service and response.

In the Purcell’s case, their home insurance did not cover the bill, and unfortunately for them, they did not find this out until after receiving the bill.  The other thing that caught the Purcell’s by surprise was that the Rural Metro Fire Department does offer a subscription or pre-paid service contract for $300 a year.  Neither the Purcell’s nor their neighbors were aware of this, but all of their neighbors did receive a letter offering the service after Justin and Kasia’s home fire.  The Purcell’s would have gladly paid the $300 a year had they known about it, they just were not aware of it.

Recommendations:  The case of the Purcell’s provides interesting lessons for those Texas home owners that own a primary or secondary home located in rural or unincorporated areas.  My recommendations for these home owners are:

  • Contact your local fire department and confirm whether or not a pre-paid or subscription plan is available.  If so, take advantage of it.
  • Also call your insurance agent to confirm whether your home policy provides coverage for a fire department bill or not, and what level of coverage is available.

Home owners who live within the city limits of cities and towns across Texas should have nothing to worry about.  It would be highly unusual for a city fire department to bill for responding to a home fire, however, please confirm this if you have any concern.

Do you have a question, comment, or experience you’d like to share with me?  Please do so in the comments section of our blog or on our Facebook page.  I’d love to hear from you!

Evie Wise

Thanks!

Evie Wise
Evie Wise
#getwiseinsurance

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