Fire officials say new law could leave them holding the bill - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Fire officials say new law could leave them holding the bill

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February 13, 2008

Albany-  Firefighters are trying to extinguish a plan that would make it illegal for them to seek reimbursements from those in at fault crashes.

On behalf of the Georgia Association of Fire Chief, Albany Fire Chief James Carwsell spoke before the Senate late Wednesday afternoon in Atlanta saying Senate Bill 348 will cost taxpayers more money in the long run.

In July, when a driver from Helena Chemicals spilled 60 pounds of the highly toxic chemical Temik on South Slappey Boulevard, Albany's fire department and HAZMAT crews responded. The clean up wasn't cheap.

"It was over five thousand dollars that was expended during that, "said Deputy EMA Director Jim Vaught.

Thanks to a city ordinance that allows the department to charge those in at fault car crashes, the department was reimbursed by Helena Chemical's insurance provider.

"It goes into an account to be drawn out to buy new hose, new suits, important equipment that's used up when we're responding to an event," said Vaught.

It's also why Chief James Carswell was in Atlanta Wednesday for a hearing before the Senate Insurance committee. He says they made it perfectly clear Albany is the reason Senate Bill 348 exists even though other communities have similar measures.

"Their opinion is the that the insurance tax already levied against the insurance companies should pay for those costs and so there should be no need to charge the insurance companies or an at fault driver," said Chief James Carswell.

Taxpayers we spoke with today seem to support the fire department and say they don't want the burden falling on them in the form of higher taxes.

"I really think they should have things the way they are and it's benefiting them in the long run," said Loran Jackson, a taxpayer.

"Insurance companies are making million and millions of dollars everyday anyway and they're in place for insuring risk and damages and things that may come along," said Vincent Hunt, a taxpayer.

The bill sponsors claim the measure prevents taxpayer who already pay for fire and EMS services from being taxed again in the form of higher insurance premiums.

The bill remains before the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee. Carswell also spoke with local House Representatives about the measure.

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