- The Washington Times - Monday, November 8, 2004

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Firefighters around the country are increasingly billing victims for putting out flames despite resistance from those who say such fees conflict with the mission of the largely volunteer fire service.

Municipal and volunteer fire companies are following the lead of ambulance companies, which began implementing fees about 15 years ago, said Robert Holds-worth, whose firm handles billing for ambulance and fire companies, including three volunteer fire units in Western Maryland.

“A lot of new fire-billing companies are popping up. We’re starting to trip over them,” said Mr. Holdsworth, president of Holdsworth, Pelton & Associates Inc. of East Berlin, Conn.

Firefighter billing is most prevalent in the West and Southwest, but the practice is spreading, he said yesterday.

In Washington County in Maryland, the Halfway, Funks-town and Longmeadow volunteer fire companies are just setting up for billing, the Hagerstown Herald-Mail reported Sunday. Their fees range from $50 to deliver a pump for a flooded basement to $1,000 for extinguishing a house fire.

Members of the companies said the fees are to make up for declines in contributions.

The Washington County government hasn’t formally endorsed the practice. It doesn’t have to, since it doesn’t control volunteer fire companies.

But Gregory I. Snook, president of the Board of County Commissioners, said the commissioners have encouraged firefighter billing as an alternative to burdening taxpayers.

Leonard King, secretary of the Maryland State Firemen’s Association, said he knew of no other fire companies in the state charging fees for their services.

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