Insurance could be billed for fire-rescue

MINNEOLA -- The city could approve new emergency-response fees today to offset the rising costs of sending firefighters to car crashes and home fires.

The proposal would allow the Minneola Fire-Rescue Department to bill insurance companies for services ranging from $435 for small traffic accidents to $1,800 for more serious crashes involving extrication of motorists. Structure fires would cost $500 for homes and $1,000 for commercial buildings.


Mayor David Yeager said the idea was inspired by ambulance companies, which for years have charged insurance companies for vehicle accidents using an existing rule included in motorists' insurance policies. Winter Park's fire department implemented its own response fees in 2005, and now governments across Central Florida are following suit.

"It's already allowed in insurance policies," Yeager said. "There's no reason why they can't pay us."


Firefighters in Leesburg and Lake County also have looked at implementing fees.

Yeager said he initially wanted the city to go after vehicle accidents, which can tie up firefighters for hours at a time. Minneola is dissected by major roads such as Florida's Turnpike and U.S. Highway 27, which are used largely by motorists who pass through Minneola and do not contribute taxes to support emergency responses.

Firefighters, for example, spent five hours at a recent collision with two tractor-trailers on the turnpike.

"The majority of accidents we go to do not involve residents of Minneola nor Lake County," Minneola fire Chief Dave Dobrzykowski said.

Structure fires are not nearly as common as car crashes. Dobrzykowski said Minneola has responded to four fires since his department started two years ago.

One question raised by the new fees for buildings is whether property owners should pay city taxes for fire services and also have their insurance companies charged for emergency responses. Minneola officials say city taxes make fire service available to residents and businesses -- the new fees would cover specific times when that service is used.

The money earned from the new fees can help to buy new equipment or replace damaged equipment.

Local governments are looking to the fees to offset the soaring cost of emergency services. But some also are trying to find new ways to make money to compensate for state-ordered tax cutbacks this year.


The Minneola City Council will meet at 7 p.m. today at City Hall, 800 N. U.S. Highway 27.