Crash Victims Report Service Fees From Fire Departments

Charges may come from a flat fee or rate based on the number of responding fire trucks and personnel, as well as the length of time on the scene

UPDATE: Maywood's fire chief told NBC 5 Investigates Wednesday that Brian McCormick does not have to pay the $435 bill. Chief Craig Bronaugh said McCormick, who was involved in a multi-vehicle accident and later issued a bill for “scene assessment” and “hazardous materials clearance check”, should never have been billed in the first place.

The Eisenhower Expressway near Maywood was getting crowded last October when Brian McCormick and his wife suddenly found themselves surrounded by a swarm of motorcycles.

“I start seeing them go by and I say, ‘You know, there’s probably going to be an accident,’” McCormick recalled.

McCormick said one motorcycle crashed into a vehicle in front of him, sending its rider smashing through the other car’s rear windshield. A few seconds later, a motorcycle slammed into McCormick’s rear left bumper before another motorcycle rider hit his car’s front left bumper. McCormick remained on the scene to provide a statement to authorities. He also contacted his insurance provider but he said the two motorcycle riders that hit his car sped away.

According to McCormick, no one was seriously hurt in the Oct. 6 accident. But nearly one year later he received something in the mail that brought him back to that day. And it came with a cost.

Last month McCormick opened a bill sent to him by a third party service allegedly working on behalf of the Village of Maywood. He was being charged $435 by the village as a result of the fire department performing a “scene assessment and stabilization” of the accident site as well as a “hazardous materials clearance check.”

“I was completely surprised,” McCormick said. “They didn’t say anything at the scene.”

The bill states fire crews closed down lanes of roadway, detoured traffic around the scene of the incident and restored the scene to a non-hazardous condition.

McCormick is disputing the bill and claims he was not responsible for any mess. He also said he was not ticketed at the scene.

A recent NBC 5 and Better Government Association investigation revealed Maywood and at least a dozen other Chicago-area fire departments are billing for their services. The charges are typically sent to non-residents. McCormick, for example, lives in Oak Park.

Charges may come from a flat fee or rate based on the number of responding fire trucks and personnel, as well as the length of time on the scene.

The state of Illinois approved the billing practice about 20 years ago, but few departments charged until recently.

While insurance carriers may pay larger clean-up costs, the claims are often denied.

“It’s something that we largely oppose because there’s often times a chance for great abuse,” said Jeffrey Junkas of Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

Junkas provided a hypothetical example of a fire engine and ambulance being responding to a fender bender in a parking lot, in which the driver would later receive a bill for the fire department’s services.

He said drivers should communicate with their insurance carriers and challenge what they may consider unnecessary bills from fire departments or billing services.

“Make sure that they are in firm standing when they go and confront these companies about these abusive bills,” Junkas said.

Sean Malloy of the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association agrees.

“Find out if there is a way to challenge that cost and ask for proof that you were involved,” Malloy said.

McCormick told NBC 5 Investigates he raised concerns about the bill with the Maywood fire department. He said he is waiting to find out if the fire department will waive his bill.

NBC 5 Investigates spoke by phone to Maywood Fire Chief Craig Bronaugh, who did not provide a comment on McCormick’s bill or elaborate on his fire department’s billing practices. Village mayor Edwenna Perkins also could not be reached for comment.

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