MONTESANO — The Montesano City Council narrowly approved a resolution last week giving the Montesano Fire Department permission to go after residents’ insurance companies if the department responds to costly calls.
Fire Chief Corey Rux explained that the purpose of the policy is to allow a contractor the department hires to file claims with insurance companies when the department responds to issues of negligence, such as a homeowner burning their own house down or hazardous material spill cleanup on the road after a driving-under-the-influence call.
Rux said that the department has utilized the policy before, but realized it was doing do without clear council instruction and the contractor required the resolution in place before working with the department again.
Councilman Chris Hutchings protested the resolution, noting that it gave the department too broad of powers. Hutchings says that the point may be to recover costs resulting from the acts of negligence, but nothing prevents the department from also recouping costs coming from the typical accident or non-arson-related fire. At what point, Hutchings wondered, is it a taxpayer benefit to have a fire department and not to have to keep paying additional fees for the activity?
“If there’s a big fire at my house, does that mean I incur the costs?” Hutchings asked.
Rux noted there was a right to object and appeal to the department’s ability to go after costs.
“This gives the ability for local jurisdictions to recover those costs for those calls related to somebody else’s negligence, not for their stupidity,” said Councilman Ken Walkington, who is also the retired fire chief. “The guy that washes his coveralls in gasoline in his washing machine and blows his house up, that’s just stupidity. That’s the difference.”
The resolution was approved on a 4 to 3 vote with Walkington, Tyler Trimble, Marisa Salzer and Lyle Powell voting for it and Hutchings, Pam McElliott and Pat Herrington voting against it.