(by Dave Savini, CBS2Chicago.com) CHICAGO HEIGHTS, Ill. – If you get into a car accident and 911 is called, you may get billed for the emergency response. Cash-strapped communities are sending out bills to cover the costs of fire trucks responding to crashes. As CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini reports, often times it does not matter whether you caused the accident or are the victim.
Cary Feldman received one of these bills last summer. He was driving his motor scooter in Chicago Heights when he was struck from behind. He was fine, but someone else called 911, and a fire truck was sent to the scene.
Feldman says it was unnecessary.
“There was no fire, there was no explosion, there was no debris,” Feldman said. “From what I saw, they came, they saw, and they left.”
The fire department then sent him a $200 bill for that fire truck response.
“We’re paying taxes for these services,” said Feldman. “We don’t need to have a second tax.”
Motorists across the country are calling these fees a “crash tax” — alleged strong arm tactics angering many, especially when the accidents they are being billed for are not their fault.
Nine states have created laws banning these fees. Illinois has no ban on these so-called “crash taxes.”
In fact, pending Illinois legislation would allow municipalities to charge up to $250 an hour for an emergency response.
Illinois Representative Karen Yarbrough is working on this issue and wants the pending legislation killed.
“Bad bill, very bad bill,” said Yarbrough. “This is just another way to reach into a consumer’s pocket.”
“I think the State of Illinois needs to take some actions to stop this from happening,” said Feldman.
Aside from the cost, there is concern that people will be afraid to call 911. That’s what happened last month in South Carolina. A couple tried using a hose to put out their house fire in order to avoid being billed by the fire department.
Once you’re billed, as Feldman learned, there is no process to fight it. There is no court date. You just have to pay the fee, or the consequences.
“They’ve been harassing me,” said Feldman who tried to get Chicago Heights officials to drop the bill.
He says that instead, officials were, “sending me letters and they even turned it over to collections without sending a final notice.”
He finally paid the $200 to avoid credit rating problems.
“So this is what I call extortion. This is how they get you to pay it,” Feldman said.
The person who hit Feldman was also billed, but only $100, because he lives in the community. Feldman says insurance would not cover the bill.
Chicago Heights Fire Chief Thomas Martello says they do not charge these extra fees for house fires. The chief also says money is tight and departments are using creative funding methods.
Matteson and Park Forest are examples of two other communities that bill for emergency response.
Naperville and Schaumburg are examples of communities that do not bill extra for fire truck services.
Some communities only bill the offender. And there are communities that only bill non-residents, those who live in other towns, figuring their residents already pay taxes on local services.
“I’m going to call it a scam,” said Feldman. “Just a way to make money instead of helping people.”
NOTE: This article was originally posted at CBS2Chicago.com on April 6, 2010.
Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from CBS News. Visit the website at cbs2chicago.com.
1. Why was Cary Feldman of Illinois billed $200 by the Chicago Heights fire department after a minor traffic accident?
2. The fees charged to citizens for emergency response are being called a “crash tax.” How many states have passed laws banning a “crash tax?”
3. What potential danger is there for people who are afraid they will be billed if they call 911?
4. Why did Mr. Feldman pay the $200 fine he received?
5. Mr. Feldman calls billing a citizen for a 911 call “extortion” and “a scam.” He also said “We’re paying taxes for these services. We don’t need to have a second tax.” Do you agree with his assertions? Explain your answer.
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