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By Miriam Raftery

January 19, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) – San Miguel Fire Protection District voted Thursday to charge drivers who cause accidents for the costs of emergency services. Proposed fees range from $390 to $2,100. The plan has sparked heated debate among community members.

Chief August Ghio says similar measures have been imposed in other communities around the U.S., including North County Fire District locally. Fire districts in Lakeside and Chula Vista are considering similar moves, he added.

Ghio expects the fees could generate $175,000 a year in revenues for the cash-strapped fire district. The district faces a $1 million deficit. Proposition A, a ballot initiative that would have assessed district residents a $52 a year parcel tax fee for firefighting countywide ($1 per week) was defeated by voters. A proposed benefit assessment district measure proposed by San Miguel Fire also failed to win passage.

“We’ve done everything we can possibly do to maintain a good level of service, but the economy keeps getting worse,” Ghio told East County Magazine. San Miguel has already take n one engine company out of service, cut $8,000 in staff positions, goods and services, and revised pension contributions to save $1 million a year, he said. “96% of our revenue is property tax,” he added, noting that he anticipates more budget cuts in the next fiscal year. “We don’t want to be spread so thin that we are impacting our responses to fires or rescues.”

The fees would apply to both residents and nonresidents of the district. Still to be determined is what factors would trigger the assessment. Two public hearings on the proposed ordinance will be set for the public to provide input, most likely in February and March. Agendas for meetings will be available at the District’s website:

Ghio maintains he aims to focus principally on drivers guilty of negligent or criminal acts ranging from talking on cell phones to drunk driving. However the district already has an ordinance on the books that allows it to charge for DUIs (driving under the influence), businesses that trigger multiple false alarms, and negligent acts resulting in HAZMAT incidents or fires.

But some community members are skeptical.

“I am concerned that this may be the first step in charging everybody for everything,” said Raymond Lutz, founder of Citizens Oversight Projects (, a government watchdog organization based in El Cajon. “Are they going to let somebody’s car burn if they can’t afford to pay? I can imagine them coming to a car fire and checking up, as the insurance companies do these days, to see if you can pay.”

Lutz argues that fire , rescue and paramedic services ideally should be provided by everyone paying equally into the system. “No one is planning to have a car fire,” he said, but added, “I understand they are strapped for money and looking for ways to pay for it.”

He views the proposed ordinance as a reaction to voters failing to pass the fire parcel tax and the district’s benefit assessment district proposal. In addition, Lutz faulted the County for not adequately funding this fire district and others.

“This County spends only a miniscule amount on all of the fire districts compared to L.A. County,” he observed. “I think they [San Miguel] are underfunded from the County standpoint, and they have been for years and years.”


But Tod Aubin, a former EMT and fire/rescue officer, supports the move. "I agree with charging those who have been determined (after an investigation) to be at fault in an accident. The cost would be something the insurance company would cover as an option in a policy," he wrote in an e-mail to ECM.  "Nowadays, it is expensive to roll an engine, rescue truck, EMS, cruisers, DPW workers and a host of other apparatus and personnel."


Aubin would support charging for service beyond car accidents. "Charging to put out a house fire because of carelessness? yes. Faulty wiring? well, the house owner should know his dwelling well, it should be a part his assessment. This may motivate more home/business owners to practice fire safety and the benefits of this healthy practice would be far reaching, the same would go for drivers, a safe driver benefits himself, you and me."

The alternative, he believes, is worse. "We cannot afford to have stations closed (or brownout) and services cut too much longer. But he addded, "Now, we cannot rely on this 'accident charge' to bolster the failing system either, there needs to be a handle on cost, pensions, spending and so forth. A balanced attack effectively and efficiently contains a fire or stabilizes a victim therefore we need a balanced attack for this incident also."

Comments posted by readers at a Union-Tribune story on the district’s plan to charge accident victims for services drew support from some, but sharp criticism from most.

“Why should taxpayers foot the bill for people that cause these accidents?” one poster wrote. “Look at the expense of just car fires that set hillsides and canyons ablaze along our freeways.”

Some blamed the firefighters’ union and suggested administrative costs should be pared down and firefighters take a cut in pay instead of charging for accident response services.

“Emergency vehicles will become cash cows. “Fire trucks and ambulances will be sent to every fender bender,” another poster predicted, noting that jurisdictions that charge for emergency responses “can make money by doing so.”

A poster identifying himself as Ivar concluded that the board should “be voted out of office pronto. Better yet, local residents should start a petition to recall the board right now.”

Chief Ghio, who was recently struck by a driver who looked down to pick up a CD, believes the ordinance is needed not merely to recoup costs for the district, but also to encourage drivers to pay more attention and reduce the number of accidents and costly emergency responses.

“We’re just trying to hold people accountable for acts that could have been avoidable,” he concluded.

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Car insurance

The various emergency response services that might come into play in different automotive emergencies can cost a lot of money to deploy. And the recovery of these expenses is important to the municipalities that provide the service to drivers. As a result, there are often stipulations requiring drivers to pay for them. I got a Farmers car insurance quote to be covered if something like this happens. Car insurance companies can be billed for the cost of fire and EMS response, as well as towing and other services.Car insurance collision protection covers losses to the vehicle, and liability insures against losses to other vehicles and to personal property affected by the accident. But emergency response services are a completely separate area of coverage.

This seems to me as a awfull

This seems to me as a awfull ideea! I think that the ones that should pay for this kind of emergency services should be the ones that prove to be the authors of the fires. What next? making people pay for hospital emergency service? or charge the homeless people with addiction problems for the rehab treatement? The place in wich these people should be welcomed, no matter their revenue is a drug-rehab center. I worked in the drug rehab Salt Lake City center for alcohol and drug-addicts where no matter of the social condition, those who came on their own were commited without question. I think we should focus our attension on how to improve the emergency services no matter the field of activity: health, fire-fighting...

Awfull indeed

I for one find it a bit inhumane to charge people for these emergency services, it may very well happen that they don't have money at the moment. Do what? Leave them to die? Shouldn't the organizing of people within a state be about finding ways to build something together, offer and find support in moments of crisis and so on? Maybe I simply don't understand where taxes go, but shouldn't they be going into such services anyway? It's a good thing that at least when it comes to the car, car insurance Ireland helps you. You invest money in time and you know it's not for nothing.


It's not the most unreasonable stance to take. Someone has to pay for emergency services. rings

The San Miguel Fire is a

The San Miguel Fire is a lightning caused wildland fire which is being managed for resource benefit. The fire is in a remote area of the Bandelier Wilderness at Bandelier National Monument and the Dome Wilderness on the Santa Fe National Forest. The San Miguel Wildland Fire is very visible and can appear deceptively close.
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