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LFD charging insurance for non-fire calls

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LAWTON, Okla._ Lawton Fire Department officials say they have started billing the insurance companies of at-fault individuals for non-fire related calls in an effort to recoup the cost of manpower and supplies.

The city has been billing insurance companies for two months, but the ordinance allowing them to do so was passed by the city council two years ago. The fire chief says these funds will help the department provide additional services to the city that their $12 million budget doesn't account for.

“The second we leave the office here, or the station, we start incurring a cost," says Dewayne Burk, LFD chief. “…Manpower, usage, fuel."

Fire emergencies, like structure fires, are covered by the city; however, the department says they’re responding to more than fire calls.

“We are really an all hazard department at this point,” says Burk.

The chief says since the fire department was established in 1901, the role they play in emergency situations has changed drastically. Fire departments throughout the city now expected to carry out multiple duties.

“Motor vehicle accidents with injury, we obviously always go … some type of a spill, such as oil leaking on the ground … some type of an extraction that's needed.”

Those types of activities, as well as emergency rescues and hazmat situations, come with an added cost they can't afford.

The Oklahoma Insurance Department says this additional charge does have an effect on insurance rates in the area, although not on an accident-by-accident basis. The cost falls on everyone with insurance in cities with this policy. Burk adds, however, the department needs the extra cash.

“In order for us to continue to provide the level of public safety services, we've got to figure out different ways to fund them,” says Burk.

This added charge is becoming a trend in cities with strapped budgets. Officials in Duncan say there have been discussions of possibly implementing a similar policy there.

Fire officials in Lawton project this change will bring in as much as $75,000 annually to be pumped back into the fire department for equipment and supplies.

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