The fire department is there to turn up whenever there is a serious emergency. Mainly those relating to fires, as that is their primary role, but also whenever an emergency service is needed, in plenty of other scenarios.
But when the fire department turns up, whether it is to put out a fire or respond to an accident...do you have to pay? Calling 911 right in the middle of an emergency situation to get help is all well and good, but are you going to be billed for it once it is all over?
Luckily, as a general rule, fire departments will not bill you any fees when they respond to an emergency. They are usually funded by tax revenue and the council, so there is no need for you to pay for the service.
However, this can depend on the type of fire department, and how the funding works.
Plus, there are also other things to consider, such as if other services, like an ambulance, are used, or if the fire department is privately operated. Basically, there’s a lot to look into, so let’s get started, and we’ll get to the bottom of it.
Who funds the Fire Department?
Let’s start by looking at one of the most important factors which can determine whether or not you get charged for fire department services: the funding.
Who funds the fire department, and how does it work?
Fire departments can be funded in a few different ways, and some of them will collect donations or receive sums of money from people’s wills or similar. They can also get money from different tasks they might perform for a fee, as a form of self-funding themselves.
However, the main way that public fire departments get funded is through the city council or government.
Basically, the fire department is just another department within the city, and therefore the way it operates is governed by the city council that it is in. The council will have elected members that call the shots, and that decide on the budget that the fire department receives.
The funds for this, therefore, come from the taxes that are paid by those within the city. The council will divide the taxes and share them amongst the different operating departments, including the fire department.
This is why the official fire department which belongs to your city council will not charge you for responding to an emergency. You have technically already paid for the service, through your taxes.
Kind of like the same way in which you indirectly pay for roads and street maintenance!
So as a general rule, you do not have to pay for the fire department to turn up, as long as the fire department turning up is the public one funded by the council. Let’s take a look at some other types of fire departments, and see whether they will charge you or not!
What is the Fire Protection District?
Sometimes, you might get the Fire Protection District to answer an emergency call, instead of the local fire department. Many people don’t even know that the fire protection district is a thing, so this can be pretty confusing.
And of course, it will make you ask yourself, are they going to charge you because they are different from the normal fire department?
The fire protection district is basically the same as the fire department, and it operates in an almost identical way.
The only main difference is that the fire department belongs to a city or county, and answers to the council or government, and the fire protection district is its own thing that does not belong to any of these.
The fire protection district is not overseen by a city council. Instead, they either have their own board of members, or they cover a few different villages and towns and therefore transcend a single council.
They are preoccupied with matters that relate to the fire district only, and therefore they cover just the area assigned to them.
The way they are funded is through the property taxes that are paid within the area that they cover.
So for example, there might be a fire tax added on to the homeowner’s property tax, and that money goes straight into the fire protection district. This also means that they will almost never charge you for their services, as you are already funding them through tax.
The good thing about this system is that the fire protection district doesn’t have to share funds with other departments belonging to a council.
However, it does mean that all of the funds rely on those directly paid taxes, so if it ends up not being enough they’re in a bit of trouble!
And to sum this up, just so that it is clear: the fire protection district is the exact same as the fire department.
But it is self-ruling instead of depending on a council, and it is funded through direct taxes, instead of receiving a share of the overall taxes divided between different departments.
What are Private Fire Departments?
Private fire departments, much as the name suggests, are a private type of fire department that does not work for the government or council, or district. They are their own thing entirely, and as they are private, they charge for their services. Kind of like a business.
These types of fire departments are not very common, with around 4% or less of all firefighters working for these private departments.
The reason why they aren’t very common, is that they don’t make that much sense, and why would people pay for a private firefighter when you already pay for the public one through taxes?
The way they operate is either by charging you every time you use their service or by setting up a yearly subscription that you pay for so that you are covered by their services when needed.
These private fire departments are mostly hired by celebrities and rich people, who have the money to be able to pay for personalized and private fire protection, especially if they have homes or estates near locations where wildfires are common.
It’s basically like an added layer of firefighting protection, at your personal service.
But for the general public, affording a private fire department is pretty out of budget, and therefore not something that is viable.
What are Volunteer Departments?
Another type of fire department that you might have heard of, is volunteer ones. These are actually a lot more common than people think, with around 70% of fire departments within the US being volunteer-based.
So while they might still get some funding from the council, a lot of their staff and many of their firefighters are volunteers, and therefore don’t get paid.
Instead, the way they operate will be through volunteers and donations. They might also host several fundraising events, to bring the community together and have them get involved.
The donations they receive from the general public will finance the equipment and the necessities, and most of the staff is just cost-free, as they’re volunteering.
As a general rule, volunteer fire departments will not charge you for their services, as they are made of volunteers that are just willing to help, completely non-profit.
However, sometimes they will ask for a donation after they have assisted you or will prompt you to give whatever you can, so that they may continue to help others in the future.
Do you have to pay for Ambulance transport?
Sometimes, when the fire department responds, an ambulance will follow soon after, if it is a medical emergency or you need to be taken to a hospital. But does the ambulance count as an added service? And if so, do you have to pay for it?
Usually, ambulances will either belong to private companies, or they might be part of the fire department itself. However, it does indeed tend to count as an added service, one that isn’t included in the services provided by the fire department.
This means that even if the service provided by the fire department is free of charge, you will likely be charged for the ambulance transport. You will not have to pay beforehand, but chances are that you will get billed a significant fee after the emergency is over.
We’ve pretty much covered all of the basic information about whether you need to pay or not when a fire department shows up. But just in case you have any leftover questions, here are the most commonly asked:
1. Does the fire department charge for a false alarm?
False alarms are very much frowned upon, as they are a waste of time and resources, and they could be stopping the fire department from attending another call that is actually real and urgent.
For a single false alarm, they will usually let you off with a warning. But if there are multiple false alarms from the same area, they will likely charge a fine, for wasting time and resources.
2. Does the fire department charge for minor services such as unlocking a car?
Usually, the only time fire departments will actually respond to minor calls, is when there is actually a risk of someone getting hurt. So they would only turn up to unlock your car if there is someone locked inside, and therefore at risk.
And in these cases, as they are helping someone at risk of getting hurt, it is not a waste of time and they will not charge you.