Bill to help emergency responders recoup costs passes SD Senate
PENNINGTON COUNTY, S.D. — A bill making its way through the South Dakota state legislature aims to help emergency responders, like Pennington County Fire Services, recoup some of the costs for their services.
A senate bill, which passed unanimously, will be headed to the house, and has the potential to save emergency responders thousands of dollars. Senate bill 56 passed 33 to 0 last Wednesday and it would allow fire departments, search and rescue, and law enforcement to bill a person’s insurance company.
“If that patient has no insurance there will likely be no billing. Obviously, there wouldn’t be any avenue. But to have that option is something very important to recoup basic costs.” said Todd Tobin, Public Information Officer for the Pennington County Fire Services.
With the number of responses in South Dakota, along with operational costs, these agencies are losing money.
“Annually it’s tens of thousands of dollars. It depends on the department — the size of the rescues in a given year. It’s a simple way for basically being able to find some additional funding to offset existing costs.” said Tobin.
The money they are looking to recoup is simply for operational costs – tires, gas and equipment – not for employees. 15 million people reportedly visit South Dakota every year. Many will visit the Black Hills on their trips, this adding a large volume of potential incidents to respond to. Fire personnel want to make sure that people take personal responsibility when responders answer a call.
“Depending on what numbers you see, between four or six million of them alone visit both our national parks and in Pennington County. And there’s no mechanism for anybody to recoup any costs or for those people to be responsible for any of these type of activities which will result in the fire departments, or search and rescue teams being involved in helping these people, providing services to them.” said Jerome Harvey, Pennington County Fire Administrator.
Still, agencies will sometimes not be able to collect on costs. Pennington County Fire Services says if insurance doesn’t pay there will be no charge to the individual.
“Every year there’s unpaid claims that are experienced in first responding agencies simply because the insurance agencies, the insurance industry rather, they look at our codified law and say ‘We don’t have to pay.'” said Harvey.