OAKLEY -- East Contra Costa Fire District is reconsidering charging nonresidents fees for its services to avoid closing stations again.

Directors on Monday discussed the possibility of billing those found responsible for vehicle accidents and other emergency situations that typically require firefighters' help.

A few dozen fire agencies around the state -- including several in Contra Costa County -- have adopted the practice of sending invoices to the insurance companies of nonresidents who cause an accident that they respond to, whether it is a car fire, a boating mishap or exposure to a hazardous material.

Although East Contra Costa Fire could opt to charge for its actual costs, most fire agencies go by a national fee schedule that insurers have established. They recover most of their costs about 80 percent of the time; in those cases, the third-party company that does the billing keeps up to 20 percent of what it collects from the insurance companies on the fire agency's behalf.

Based on the calls for service East Contra Costa Fire dealt with in 2012, it would recover an estimated $100,000 annually if it followed the national fee schedule.

And that is one of the reasons the district's board of directors dismissed the idea three years ago: The additional revenue simply wouldn't make a big enough dent in the agency's expenses, said Chief Hugh Henderson before the meeting.


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Another potential drawback is the public backlash the district might experience if it bills the family of someone who died.

The board also should ensure that it does not cut one party slack while seeking reimbursement from another, Henderson said.

"You need to have a blanket policy," he said.

Director Ronald Johansen said he wants adopt this cost-recovery method as soon as possible to show constituents that the district is doing everything in its power to generate more revenue.

But Director Joe Young voiced reservations, saying this plan could pave the way for the district exacting additional fees in the future.

Other board members wanted more information about the effectiveness of this approach and asked Henderson to invite representatives from a couple of companies that bill insurers to speak at the Nov. 4 meeting.

Reach Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her on Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.