South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

With fundraising down due to COVID, MOFD looks to other revenue sources

 

February 2, 2021

The Mt. Oliver Fire Company is considering charging insurance companies for service calls. Officials from the fire company made a presentation before the Mt. Oliver Borough Council explaining how the process would work at the council's January meeting.

In an effort to recoup some of the costs of operating the volunteer fire company, Francis Kestner and Ron Lowrey of the Mt. Oliver Fire Department (MOFD) spoke before the Mt. Oliver Borough Council at the January council meeting.

COVID-19 has hampered the ability of the fire company to raise funds as it has in the past. Mr. Lowrey said they haven't been able to hold their bingos and last year they had to cancel their Lenten Fish Fry. Although this year they will hold the Fish Fry as curb-side pick-up and delivery only.

Looking at ways to increase its revenue, the MOFD is considering contracting with Emergency Fund Recovery (EFR), one of several companies that will bill for the incidents fire companies respond to each day.

Mr. Lowrey explained on many insurances there is coverage for fire companies to respond to accidents or other emergencies. Considering most of the traffic coming through the borough is with non-borough residents, the MOFD could recover anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000 per year from the billing he estimated.

They propose to use a two-tier billing system: If an incident involves a non-resident, the non-resident's insurance would be billed. If the insurance company doesn't pay, the non-resident would be responsible for the charges. However, if the incident involves a borough resident, they would bill the resident's insurance, but wouldn't necessarily pursue the charges if the insurance company doesn't pay the costs.

In addition to vehicle accidents, they could potentially bill insurance companies for MOFD services from calls for structure fires, downed wires, vehicle fires, hazmat incidents and ruptured gas lines, to name a few. The billing could also be structured to exclude certain incidents on a case by case basis.

"It's just a way for us to help fund the fire department," Mr. Lowrey said. "You don't want to raise taxes and fundraisers are harder and harder to do. And now with COVID, everything costs more."

The fire company would have to place a dollar amount on each apparatus. An example would be if a ladder truck was needed it could be billed at $200 an hour, the engine could be billed at $150 per hour.

They are not permitted to bill for EMS calls or for the firefighter's time. However, they are permitted to charge non-residents a "preparedness fee" for general training.

Mr. Lowery said they chose EFR to work with because the company tacks on their fee to the amount the fire department bills. Most of the other billing companies take their fee from the fire department's charges.

"This way the fire department gets the full amount. The at-fault party would pay the difference (between what the charges are and what the billing is)," he said.

The contract with EFR could be structured in tiers to allow borough residents only to have their insurance billed. Non-residents could have further collection scenarios including reminder telephone calls, letters asking for payment and eventually being turned over to a collection agency.

If a charge is uncollectable, EFR charges a $25 fee. The fire company wouldn't be billed for that fee, it would be deducted from the next incident charges collected by the billing company.

Council members questioned what the MOFD does now for cost recovery.

"We do nothing now," Mr. Lowery replied adding that due to COVID most of their other funding sources "dried up."

He said it was another way to help fill the funding gap without having to put it on their members' shoulders to sell raffle tickets or stand on Brownsville Road with a boot asking for donations.

In order for the MOFD to contract with EFR to do the billing, the Borough Council would have to pass an ordinance with a schedule of fees for each apparatus and additionally, the billing company's fee.

Council members asked for more information concerning what other in-state municipalities use the billing services and what the enabling Pennsylvania legislation includes so they could make an informed decision before proceeding.

Mayor Frank Bernardini also requested the fire department keep a log of incidents they respond to and detail the costs involved with each call. He asked the information be reported on until the Borough Council makes a decision on the requested ordinance.

 

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