St Andrews Fire District to levy crash fees for accidents

WEST ASHLEY, S.C. (WCIV) -- For people who find themselves in a car accident in the St. Andrews Fire District of West Ashley, they could soon be paying for their own assistance.

A new ordinance passed unanimously Monday night that will enforce a crash service fee to people involved in an accident needing fire department assistance who don't live in the district.

District Manager Christie Holderness says it's a soft fee, meaning those who dont pay won't face creditors attempting to collect the fees. However, the fees start at $300.

"If we're called to respond to a motor vehicle accident, within any district that we serve and if it is a non-property owner of the service district, then we have the authorization to charge the driver of the accident that we respond to," said Holderness.

Holderness says since 2008, there has been a significant increase in the number of calls into the fire department.

"Our department took the biggest hit in terms of call volume, we went from under 1,000 in 2008 to over 5,000 last year," said Holderness.

She says the crash service fee is an effort to prevent raising taxes and a way to collect money to assist with the rising costs of gas and vehicle maintenance.

She says the St. Andrews fire department recently made the change from responding as mutual aid, to responding as automatic aid. Holderness says it's more costly but the right thing to do.

Holderness says the fee should be covered by a driver's insurance company, depending on his or her deductible.

"If there is an accident, an invoice will be sent to both drivers and it will clearly be stated that the intention is for whoever, which ever driver was deemed at fault, will be responsible for payment of the invoice. So we are not billing both drivers," she said.

Holderness says the police officer at the scene will determine who was at fault for the accident. She says insurance companies cannot make that determination.

But one group says the service fee will be passed directly to the driver.

"It is something that happens in other districts, that it's going to make traveling through this part of Charleston County more expensive," says Jeff Griffith, who represents the Property Casualty Insurers Association.

The ordinance is set to go into effect in the next 30 days.

Holderness says the plan is to get a quick response vehicle to respond to the car accidents instead of a fire truck. The vehicle will be much cheaper to operate, she said.

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