by Kate Shunney
After months of discussion, negotiations with county fire companies and a public hearing, the Morgan County Commission voted last Wednesday, August 17 to give fire companies the option to bill property owners for their services.
First proposed in December 2021, the ordinance would allow any of the county’s four volunteer fire companies, or any neighboring fire company who is first on the scene of an emergency incident in Morgan County, to send a bill to a property owner for their firefighting or emergency response services.
Commission President Sean Forney, who first floated the idea of the ordinance, said fire companies used to be able to bill insurance companies for responding to fires but stopped because there was no county ordinance allowing it.
West Virginia law authorizes County Commissions to make such a rule.
Commissioners last week voted unanimously to pass the ordinance, saying they hoped it would provide a stream of revenue for the volunteer fire companies, and help them pay the rising costs of materials, fuel and training.
Forney said during a house fire, a fire company might be on the scene up to eight hours, using “gallons and gallons of diesel” to run multiple fire units.
State law (West Virginia code 7-1-3d) states that “no fee for any single incident or accident shall exceed $1,500, except that the fee for an incident or accident involving hazardous materials or extended search and rescue and eater rescue incidents may exceed this amount based on the necessary and reasonable costs incurred.”
Forney pointed out that all homeowners’ insurance policies already include a fee to cover payouts of these types. He said property owners are already paying for that coverage, but fire companies were not capturing that insurance revenue.
Any uninsured property owner will have to option to ask for that fire company bill to be wiped out due to lack of coverage.
Forney said the county, in conjunction with fire companies, has created an “insurance billing form” that will be used to collect insurance information. The idea is that the fire company bill would be submitted directly to a person’s insurance company.
In response to questions from The Morgan Messenger, commissioners said any bill from a fire company sent to property owners or county residents would come with a sheet of instructions on how to handle the bill or ask for an exoneration.
The ordinance goes into effect on September 1. It can be viewed on the Morgan County Commission website under Ordinances as “Fire Ordinance” at http://morgancountywv.gov/Commission/Ordinances/index_50_2274666303.pdf.