SALISBURY TWP., Pa. - Salisbury Township officials plan to develop an ordinance that should help firefighters, police and even public works department recoup some costs when responding to emergencies.
It's all about third-party billing.
The goal is for the township's volunteer fire departments, as well as its police and public works departments, to have the authority of the township behind them when they seek to recover costs from insurance companies.
The proposal was suggested at Thursday night's township meeting by Salisbury Commissioner James Seagreaves, who is a captain and vice president with the Eastern Salisbury Fire Department.
"This would help us with the ability to collect," said Seagreaves, adding the two township fire departments now are losing revenue.
A township ordinance still won't guarantee they will get payment, he said, but it will give them extra leverage.
"Our existing ordinance covers oil spill reimbursement costs for the volunteer fire departments, but that's the extent of it," township manager Randy Soriano told Salisbury commissioners.
Soriano said Salisbury's fire departments have no township authority behind them to charge for any other costs except oil spills.
"We'd like to expand it to every call that we go on, so we can bill for time and material," said Seagreaves
He stressed that does not mean someone who has a house fire would receive a bill from the township fire company that extinguished it. He said the fire departments only bill insurance companies, not residents.
Seagreaves said the current problem is that the fire departments don't have anything they can produce showing they have the township backing their efforts to recover the costs of time and materials expended on fires, accidents, rescues or search and rescues.
While commending the commissioner's suggestion, Police Chief Allen Stiles recommended a resolution or ordinance be adopted that would include the volunteer fire companies, police department and public works together "so that the township would not suffer a loss that falls back on the taxpayers."
Stiles told commissioners the police department gets involved in responding to crashes on the section of Interstate 78 that runs through the township.
"It's sometimes difficult for us to get our money back when we take care of haz-mat spills and so forth out there," said the chief. "We are responsible as a township to pay for initial costs for haz-mat clean-up on I-78."
He said the police department has been reimbursed by insurance companies for those costs, but it sometimes takes months.
Seagreaves said some fire companies in other local municipalities have resolutions backing their efforts to recover expenses. "It doesn't necessarily have to be an ordinance."
But Stiles recommended an ordinance, saying it would carry more weight.
Seagraves said the township's two volunteer fire departments have a contract with a company called PA Fire Recovery Service that does their billing for them.
He explained the fire departments provide PA FRS with reports about costs when they respond to an emergency and that company submits those report to insurance companies for reimbursement.
He said some insurance companies pay, but many want to see "a copy of your resolution or ordinance saying that you as an entity of the township are allowed to bill for time and services."
"We don't have that," said Seagreaves. "So they don't pay it."
He said PA FRS has advised the fire departments that they would be more successful in recovering money if the township had such an ordinance.
He later noted township public works personnel often get called out on middle-of-the-night emergencies, such as salting nearby roadways if firefighters are putting water on a blaze on a cold winter night.
Allentown, PA 18102