Sacramento Fire Department’s First Responder Fee Causes Confusion

SACRAMENTO -- Sara Moore was surprised to see a $283 medical bill from the Sacramento City Fire Department after a minor bicycle accident earlier this year.

The department began assessing the fee whenever fire personnel were sent out on medical calls, whether the victims request care or not.

In Moore’s case, her pulse and blood pressure were checked. She was never told she was going to be billed.

Later, when she questioned the bill, she was told there was no waiver and that she had to pay in full in 10 days.

It turns out she was misinformed by the fire department, whose staff may still be confused about the payment policy.

The fire department has a sliding scale based on income. The city council’s resolution approving of the first responder fee expressly states that no medical services would be denied for "the inability or unwillingness" to pay.

Much of the funding for the fire department's budget is restricted to firefighting activities and services like medical calls, rescues, flooding events and hazmat calls go unreimbursed. It does have a billing procedure for patients who are transported to a hospital.

Other fire districts have assessed a first responder fee for years to pay for the cost of fire equipment and crews sent to medicals calls. The Sacramento City Council approved it for the first time in December.

"We never want people not to call 911," said Sacramento City Fire Deputy Chief Chad Augustine. "We will provide service, whether they have the ability to pay or not."

Moore, who was erroneously told that there was no waiver of the fee, is paying her bill on a six-month payment plan because her health insurance hasn’t reached its deductible level yet. She says waiver policy should be clearer for those who can’t afford such a big unexpected bill.