Motorists face bill for thousands if they call fire brigade
HARD-pressed motorists are being hit with bills of thousands of euro after dialling 999 for emergency services.
One county council last night defended a bill for over €3,000 sent to one driver when he called in the fire brigade after his car went up in flames on a motorway.
Charges for calling out the fire services to put out chimney fires or attend road crashes vary dramatically throughout the country, and some local authorities don't charge anything.
But Michal Szulc, a father of two, who lives in Portlaoise, Co Laois, received a bill from Laois County Council for €3,500 for calling out the fire brigade to the M7 motorway. The bill was later dropped to €3,017.96 with no explanation provided.
His insurance paid €1,000 but the council have billed him for the remainder of €2,017.
Mr Szulc was returning from his night-shift job in a homeless service in Dublin at between 7am and 8am on July 11 last when he noticed a fan had caught fire in his car at Junction 14, near Portlaoise.
He rang emergency services to inform them about the fire.
"I don't have this kind of money to pay the bill. I have two kids, one 16 months and one nearly three years old, and I need the car for them and for work," he said.
"It might make it dangerous.
"If this happens more often people will stop ringing the fire brigade at all. There were 18 people sent out for one car fire -- that is too much."
Two fire crews -- an eight-man crew from Mountrath and an 11-man crew from Portlaoise -- spent two hours at the incident, including travelling time.
Martin Collins, chief fire officer in Laois Fire Services, said two crews were automatically dispatched to fires on the motorways for safety.
Mr Collins said the costs of the Laois fire crews were in-line with many of the rural counties.
The decision to levy a charge for fire services is up to each local authority under the 1981 fire services acts.
A study into fire and emergency services published by the Environment Department earlier this year revealed the majority of local authorities do levy charges but there are no set rates throughout the country.
It revealed councils were applying no charges at all for certain types of fire call-outs, while others were applying a set fee ranging from €100 upwards, some an hourly rate and other areas had a flat charge per fire fighter.
However, millions of euro are not collected. Figures from 2008 revealed local authorities levied charges for more than €7m for fire services, with just €3.8m collected.
In Laois County Council, a motorway callout to a fire after 10pm that took more than two hours to travel to and extinguish would result in a bill of €3,177.60 for a full 20-man crew on two brigades.
The council provides a waiver scheme for those on social welfare or on compassionate grounds, while low earners can pay in instalments.