By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
The Pierz Rural Area Fire Protection Association has billed for services provided by the Pierz Fire Department at accident scenes for years. Until about two years ago, the Fire Department responded to accident scenes only when called out.
When it was decided the Fire Department would respond to all accident scenes, the city did not have a fee schedule in writing for those services at accident scenes.
Without the written policy in place, some automobile insurance companies have refused to cover the costs for the Fire Department’s services at an accident scene.
“The reason the ordinance was adopted, is because some insurance companies were using it as a loophole to not pay for our services at car accidents and assists for medicals, not for fire-related responses,” said Pierz Fire Chief Brian Boser.
Monday night, in an attempt to close that loophole, the Pierz City Council approved by resolution an ordinance outlining those fees in writing — not changing the fees, not adding fees — simply putting them in writing.
Reiny Hanneken is the secretary of the Pierz Rural Area Fire Protection Association and as owner of Hanneken Insurance, knows that insurance companies do indeed deny claims for the cost of those services.
He said the Fire Department responds to accident scenes for a number of reasons.
“Sometimes firefighters are called in for traffic control and another time they may have to cut the roof off the car to save the victim,” said Hanneken.
“We never had a problem until auto insurance companies started fighting (the charges). They don’t feel that the auto policy covers the fire department service at an accident scene,” he said. “They’ll pay for medical bills, the ambulance, but not fire department services.”
The ordinance was adopted to specifically address billing for those services rendered by the Fire Department at an accident scene that have nothing to do with fires.
The Fire Department is better equipped to handle situations involving accident scenes, Hanneken said.
The Fire Department began responding to auto accidents as a service to the community and to the victims, said Hanneken.
Firefighters assist the first responders, many of whom are private individuals who respond to calls in their personal vehicles.
“A first responder’s job is for medical assistance, not for traffic control — it wouldn’t be safe,” said Hanneken.
He said firefighters, especially in rural areas, are often on the scene before law enforcement, because of the location.
“If there’s a first responder call in Little Falls, squad cars may get there first,” said Hanneken. “But that may not be the case east of Pierz. Firefighters in fire vehicles are first to appear in many of these cases.”
Boser agreed. “In rural areas, we are there a long time before law enforcement on many occasions, depending upon on where they are when the call comes in — we can be out there 15 minutes before law enforcement shows up,” he said.
When responding to a scene, the Fire Department may control traffic around the scene of an accident, get a victim out of a vehicle, using the jaws of life to cut the vehicle apart, set up landing scenes for medical helicopters to land, as well as to assist if the vehicle in the accident ended up in flames.
Boser said, in addition to scene control for safety reasons, the Fire Department has an equipment van, a retired ambulance, which has a climate controlled environment for patients waiting for an ambulance.
“We also think it’s a great deal at night to provide emergency lighting — we can light up the scene and make it safer for all involved,” Boser said.
Firefighters set up a medical helicopter landing zone if needed.
“Also, by responding to these accidents automatically, we cut down time that would be lost if the person needed extrication,” said Boser. “In the past, first responders would be called, and it may take five – 10 minutes to get there. Then they would determine if we were needed. Now we’re automatically called and if an extrication is needed we’re definitely saving needed time.”
Boser said when a vehicle accident occurs, there’s always the chance of a fire.
“We have water capability in our trucks and a fire engine is there in case of an ignition source,” he said.
The Pierz Fire Department covers “just shy of 500 square miles,” Boser said. “Probably one of the second or third largest in the state.”
He said the Pierz Fire Department’s area runs to just about County Road 45 toward Little Falls; east to the intersection of County Road 8 and Highway 27, near Onamia, south to Little Rock, butting up against the Rice and Foley areas, and 20 miles north to South Long Lake.