The St. Andrews Public Service District recently approved an ordinance intended to collect motor vehicle accident response fees. If a St. Andrews Fire Department unit is dispatched to a motor vehicle accident, the ordinance allows for the Public Service District to receive funds for fire department services provided at the accident.

Many times auto insurance companies pay for this service as part of the insured's policy as a small portion of the total aggregate claim paid out for an accident.

This process of accident response fee recovery is utilized locally as well as at many departments throughout the state of South Carolina and in 37 other states in the nation. It has been endorsed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs as a way to assist department revenue streams while experiencing increased incident volume.

Insurance lobbyists have effectively convinced legislators to eliminate the ability to recover these fees in 12 states. It is no surprise insurance companies have rallied against this ordinance that has received extremely one-sided attention by the local media.

Insurance companies are in business to return a profit to their investors. It makes sense that they will make any and all attempts to avoid paying out what they consider frivolous expenses attached to what may well involve a claim that might be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A typical accident response fee of $350 attached to a payout by an insurance company is not the direct cause for an increase in a driver's monthly premium. Aside from the total aggregate payout, several factors play a role in premium increases including citations issued for the accident such as DUI, running a red light or speeding. The insurance provider may also play a role with significant rate increases by utilizing a surcharge schedule. This is an automatic increase if you are found at fault in an accident. Far too many other reasons for rate increases exist for this discussion.

In the aftermath of the tragic Sofa Super Store fire in June of 2007, the St. Andrews Fire Department reached out two months later in a letter to the City of Charleston Fire Department with the recommendation to create an automatic aid district to assist response in the West Ashley community that both services protect.

This seed that was planted evolved into what is today the automatic aid agreement that was established including the cities of North Charleston and Charleston, St. John's Fire District, James Island PSD Fire Department and St. Andrews in July of 2012. Prior to the official agreement all of the departments participated in an unofficial agreement of cooperative service - a service intent upon providing closest unit response to our customers for fire and other emergency incident requests within the region. This concept, fairly typical throughout our nation, was foreign to the past practices of firefighting and emergency service in the Lowcountry.

This change has enhanced response capabilities, thus reducing risk to all firefighters in the automatic aid community. Risk reduction enhances service to our customers.

Each of the fire departments brings unique resources into the program to assist in reducing redundant specialized equipment. Training responsibilities are shared and we work hard to read off the same sheet of music when implementing operating procedures.

All five jurisdictions bring personnel to the program with unique strengths and traits that allow us to look differently at our strategic goals. We additionally acknowledge areas that are in need of improvement.

We assist each other in many ways other than just on incident scenes. Whether a small or large organization, we have more strength as a rope of five braids rather than one.

This ordinance in no way affects the intent of the automatic aid agreement. In the agreement each party shall be responsible for all costs rendered under the agreement. Nowhere in the agreement does it indicate how these costs may or may not be funded by participating departments.

The insurance company already provides the insured coverage that will pay for this accident response fee, but only if you request it.

If someone asked you to go to dinner with him and indicated that he would pay, but only if you asked, would you ask him?

Mark Schrade

Fire Chief

St. Andrews Fire Department

Ashley River Road

Charleston