Chehalis establishes cost recovery program for some fire department emergency services


Those utilizing Chehalis Fire Department services may now have to pay for the department’s response depending on the type of emergency after the Chehalis City Council voted Monday to approve an ordinance establishing a cost recovery program for emergency services. 

City councilors unanimously voted to approve the ordinance. 

Chehalis Fire Chief Adam Fulbright said the fire department has responded to a lot of incidents caused by people who are not Chehalis residents, all at zero cost to those who caused the incidents and without attempting to recover any costs. 

“Sometimes those costs get steep and kind of burdensome on the budget and the taxpayers,” Fulbright said. 

He added that with inflation, equipment is going to keep costing more to replace. Some of the tools used, including specialized equipment for vehicle extractions, can cost up to $40,000 to purchase and on average $1,500 to $2,000 to repair. 

“Those are some examples of some of the large expenses we have to deal with,” Fulbright said. 

Chehalis Mayor pro-tem Bob Spahr clarified with Fulbright the ordinance wouldn’t affect most Chehalis residents calling for regular emergency services. 

“I just wanted to get that clear for the public,” Spahr said. 

Since state law allows cities to establish cost recovery programs for municipal fire departments, Fulbright proposed establishing one. The city will be using EF Recovery, a Gig Harbor-based billing agency for first responders, to bill and collect fees. 

In total, eight emergency situations requiring fire department responses were listed as billable and are as follows: 

• Containment and suppression of a fire in part, or whole stabilization of an incident by department resources.

• A situation or incident resulting in damage or destruction of Chehalis Fire Department equipment beyond normal degradation, such as a vehicle crashing into a fire engine. 

• Any incident started by a criminal act such as intentional false alarms, arson or DUI. 

• Any incident requiring toxic or hazardous material release containment, abatement or safety measures.

• Any toxic or hazardous materials incident requiring Chehalis Fire Department oversight, personnel and equipment to maintain public health and safety. 

• Any vehicle or traffic incident, including those requiring control of fires and spills, debris cleanup, medical assistance if required and extraction of a vehicle occupant using specialized tools and techniques. 

• Any event or situation hosted by a for-profit organization requiring standby fire, rescue or emergency medical services. 

• Any specialized rescue, disentanglement or body recovery requiring Chehalis Fire Department oversight and deployment of department personnel, equipment, specialized tools, apparatus or techniques. This includes high and low angle environments, confined spaces, below-grade and trench incidents, heavy equipment and machinery incidents, ice or water rescue and recovery, outside searches lasting longer than one hour and recovery from collapsed structures. 

Three exempted situations were listed where a person would not be billed for a Chehalis Fire Department response. The first is responses to false alarms caused by system malfunctions or maintenance issues, not exceeding three false alarms within 12 months. 

Second, any response to a fire involving City of Chehalis buildings, property or grounds is exempt from billing. 

Finally, any fire department response outside city limits in other jurisdictions if there is a mutual or automatic aid agreement in place with the municipality will be exempt. 

Fees start with $250 for a minimum 20-minute response, with hourly personnel fees ranging from $68 for the fire chief, $67 for a company officer, $44 for a captain, $40 for a firefighter paramedic and $37 for a firefighter engineer.

Vehicle response costs start at $50 for the fire chief’s command vehicle, $66 for the department’s ambulance, $133 for one of the department’s structural fire engines and $208 for the department’s ladder truck. 

Use of the “jaws of life” for extraction from a vehicle will cost $50. Additionally, a variety of consumables will be included with cost recovery billing, ranging in cost from the lowest at $3 for gloves to the highest, $92 for firefighting foam. 

Fulbright added he looked at 2022 responses and found 168 instances when the city would be able to bill for the department’s response. His projection showed the possibility of more than $77,000 in recoverable costs from the previous year. 

However, some insurance companies do not pay out to municipal cost recovery programs, so he urged the Chehalis City Council to be conservative with its expectations in the program’s first year. 

“We’re gonna give time for staff to implement the program, train on the program, and go with a conservative number of $10,000 to start and see how the program works,” Fulbright said. 

The ordinance will receive its second reading during the next regular Chehalis City Council meeting, scheduled for Nov. 13.