More Fire Departments Charging Fleets for Hazmat Spill Response
HUDSON, Mass., Oct. 17, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Fire departments routinely respond to spills of hazardous materials and other regulated substances as part of their service – usually at no charge to the party responsible for the spill. But budgetary belt-tightening is prompting more and more fire services and other emergency responders to start charging spill generators for the cost of the response.
Many states and municipalities have authorizing statutes on the books that allow for the recovery of “necessary and reasonable” costs of spill response, according to Thomas Moses, president of Spill Center®, a nationwide leader in hazardous materials spill support and environmental claims management based in Hudson, Mass.
Union Township, N.J., recently adopted an ordinance that for the first time enables the township to bill trucking companies and others responsible for hazmat spills, related Mr. Moses, a former U.S. EPA toxicologist who holds a Juris Doctorate degree and a certificate in Hazardous Materials Control and Emergency Response. Four fire companies serve Union Township.
Similar to laws in other municipalities, the Union Township ordinance allows for recovery of costs of personnel, including workers’ compensation, benefits and administrative time, equipment and materials such as fire suppression foam and chemical agents, and protective clothing and gear used at the scene of incidents.
In Framingham, Mass., the fire department recently changed its policy of seeking reimbursement only after major spills, noted Mr. Moses. The department is now billing responsible parties after all spills for which cost recovery is authorized under Mass. General Law 21E, which states:
“Any person who undertakes a necessary and appropriate response action regarding the release or threat of oil or hazardous material shall be entitled to reimbursement from any other person liable for such release or threat of release for the reasonable costs of such response action.”
Spill Center worked with the Framingham department to develop a computerized billing system to facilitate invoice preparation. The result is Spill Center’s new Fire Services Billing System, designed to make recovery of costs quick and easy for fire services and other first responders, explained Mr. Moses.
Asst. Chief John Magri of the Framingham FD worked closely with Spill Center personnel to tailor the system to the department’s needs. Standard data forms that fire officers complete after each hazmat run are sent via the Internet to Spill Center, where a proprietary computer program is used to extract the data and calculate reimbursable charges.
According to Mr. Moses, within 24 hours of receiving an incident report, a comprehensive invoice package is returned to the department by Spill Center, complete with a cover letter on the department’s letterhead. No administrative effort is required on the part of fire department staff. A typical invoice package includes the following:
- Cover letter to be signed by the chief describing the response actions and citing the law that authorizes reimbursement.
- Invoice with breakdown of labor, equipment and administrative costs
- Calculation report showing fees for equipment/hourly personnel rates and time on scene
- National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) report, detailing apparatus and resources used, plus names and rank of personnel on scene
- Schedule of Equipment Rates from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) covering all eligible costs
- Authorizing law or statute in its entirety that entitles the department to reimbursement
“The FEMA fee schedule is a nationwide standard that is considered reasonable and not likely to draw an objection from insurance adjusters,” said Mr. Moses. “If another department has a different fee schedule, that can be used instead.” An administrative fee, which covers the cost of preparing the invoice document, is included in the invoice and passed on to the spill generator, he noted.
Chief Magri observed: “The professional invoice package that we receive from Spill Center leaves little opportunity for questions. It gives the insurance adjustor all the information he needs to process the payment without having to come back to the fire department for answers. That means faster payments for the 150-200 reimbursable runs we make each year.”
Mr. Moses observed that insurance industry insiders who are familiar with Spill Center’s Fire Services Billing System feel that by using this complete invoice package, fire departments can expect to receive 100% payment.
“That is quite a testimonial from an industry that in the past has refused payment of up to 80% of invoices because of incomplete documentation or unreasonable charges,” he said.
Mr. Moses believes the insurance industry will welcome the Fire Services Billing System because the invoices are complete and easy to process, providing all the documentation that claims adjusters need to close out their files.
To learn more about the billing system, email Tom Moses at email@example.com, or call him at 978-568-1922, x222.
SOURCE Spill Center