Ordinance would let Woolwich recoup some emergency costs

Posted:  Sunday, April 7, 2019 - 8:00am
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At the May 4 annual town meeting, Woolwich will consider ordinances allowing the fire department to bill for some emergency calls and false alarms.

One of the proposed ordinances would let the department seek reimbursement for emergency calls caused by illegal activity and motor vehicle accidents. These include false alarms, bomb threats, arson, illegal burning and crashes including OUI-related ones, or ones involving commercial vehicle hazardous material spills and “extraordinary responses.”

“The key word as far as traffic accidents are concerned is ‘extraordinary,'" Selectman Jason Shaw told the Wiscasset Newspaper Friday.

“This wouldn’t apply to a car off the road, or minor fender-bender. It’s more to deal with the cleanup involved if a fuel truck were to roll over resulting in a spill, or if some major Route 1 accident were to occur,” said Shaw.

“The ordinance authorizes the select board to make the attempt to recover expenses from the party’s insurance company,” he added. Fees could be imposed for services such as traffic control, extrication and cleanup.

The ordinance authorizes the select board to “set the fees as they deem in the best interest of the town.” Fire department fees are listed as $150 an hour for engine response, $100 an hour for the responding fire team and $100 an hour to respond to a brush or woods fire. The rate for rescues involving a UTV or watercraft is $50 an hour.

Selectman Allison Hepler noted the town bills a party’s insurance company for fire calls that go “above and beyond” routine services. “Like having the need for excavators at a fire scene, for example,” she explained. “The ordinance would allow us to continue this practice.”

Hepler said she understands the concern about “extra costs to taxpayers” but pointed out most of the major Route 1 traffic accidents haven’t involved Woolwich residents. The ordinance allows the select board to write off claims, “in whole or in part, due to extenuating circumstances.”

The other proposal deals with the problem of the fire department responding to false alarms at the same address, public or private. The cause could be due to malfunctioning alarm systems, maintenance negligence or inappropriate use of alarm systems.

“(It) provides an incentive for public and private entities to repair their alarm systems if they are sending out multiple false alarms,” said Hepler.

The owner(s) would be subject to a $50 fine following the second and third fire department calls. The ordinance states subsequent calls result in “$50 increments from the previous” fine. The ordinance makes allowances for newly installed fire alarm systems and false alarms caused by power outages, weather, and motor vehicle crashes.

Both ordinances would take effect upon voters' approval May 4.

Fire Chief Mike Demers was on vacation and could not immediately be reached for comment.