Robstown fire and auto victims may soon get an unexpected bill after firefighters respond to calls.
The Robstown City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance on first reading Monday night allowing the Fire Department to bill for firefighting services and damaged equipment.
The ordinance must be approved again on second reading to be enacted.
Fire Chief Richard Gonzalez told the city council the ordinance would allow the Robstown Fire Department to bill for services as nearby departments do in Alice and Kingsville.
"What we're doing is coming up to the standards of other area departments," Gonzalez said. "The state allows us to bill insurance companies. We can't charge without an actual ordinance in place."
Gonzalez said a set of fire gear costs more than $1,000 and firefighters sometimes experience equipment damages. He said it's increasingly common for fire departments to bill for equipment losses and for responding to calls.
Gonzalez said the Robstown Fire Department would charge Nueces County for responses to county property, such as the Richard M. Borchard Regional Fairgrounds, which is inside Robstown city limits.
Other bills would be mailed to homeowners and auto owners with the hope of insurance companies paying the bills, Gonzalez said.
"If you don't have insurance to pay the bills, don't pay the bills," he said, adding later that Robstown Emergency Medical Services also bills for responses. "With this ordinance, we'll be able to charge the insurance company the whole bill."
Councilwoman Arlene Rodriguez asked if the Annaville Volunteer Fire Department, which frequently responds to the Robstown-area, would also bill for assisting Robstown firefighters with mutual aide.
Gonzalez said Annaville doesn't bill for mutual aide responses within Robstown's service area, but Annaville does charge for nearby responses, including billing a Robstown-area company after a recent response to its plant.
The ordinance providing for fire billing services says the city "shall assess and collect fees for certain services rendered by the fire department."
The council accepted a clerical change to include residential properties, instead of "excluding" them.
The ordinance says the fees for the use of personnel, equipment and supplies "shall be assessed and collected" when used in response to residential and commercial property fires, rescues or rescue attempts, vehicle fires, accidents and extrication from vehicles, traffic accidents involving hazardous materials and other fluid controls, and scene and safety control at incidents.
The ordinance establishes the specific fees.
A class A pumper would cost $450 an hour, a command unit would cost $250 an hour, and a rescue boat would cost $150 an hour.
Firefighters and fire inspectors would cost $35 an hour, a hazardous materials technician would cost $40 an hour, fire investigators would cost would cost $75 an hour, and a dive team would cost $200 an hour.
Latex gloves would cost $5, absorbent would cost $15 per bag, disposable goggles and brooms $20, and shovels would cost $50.
Firefighter gloves would cost $45, boots would cost $120, helmets would cost $350, and firefighting coats and pants $650 each.
Fees are also established for everything from foam and water by the gallon; fans, generators, air bags, chainsaws and other tools by the hour; barricade tape by the roll; sets of photos; cellular long-distance calls; and damaged ladders, brooms, hoses, nozzles and tools.