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KVFR explores fee for drug, alcohol calls that don’t end in trip to hospital

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Posted: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 1:50 pm | Updated: 8:27 am, Wed Mar 6, 2013.

Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue is proposing charging for emergency medical calls resulting from illegal drug or alcohol activity that do not result in transporting someone to a hospital.

Deputy Fire Chief Rich Elliott met with members of the Kittitas County Community Network and Coalition on Monday about the proposal. The coalition coordinates substance abuse and injury prevention efforts across the community, and includes parents, law enforcement, substance abuse treatment professionals and other community members. 


Elliott said people who are taken to the hospital already are paying a fee, and 70 percent of KVFR’s emergency medical service budget comes from those fees, with the rest from fire district tax revenue. People who aren’t taken to the hospital don’t pay.

Ambulances respond to every incident, even if the caller contacts 911 later to cancel the call, he said, and responders can’t leave until a call is complete. 

In the case of canceled calls or calls where a patient refuses service, the fire department still incurs a cost for staffing, equipment use and staffing again to cover the first ambulance in case of another call.

By instituting a $250 fee, the district might be able to recover some of the money lost from payroll and equipment use, he said, and maybe deter some misuse of the system.

“As the community grows or as the use of 911 system grows, we basically have to build response capabilities in front of that, and it’s extremely expensive,” he said.

Last year, 49 percent of alcohol or drug related calls resulted in a transport. That year, the department had more than 1,200 situations where crews were assigned to more than one call, for an average of four concurrently running calls daily.

“Virtually every call we have generates an overtime expense,” he said.

Group doesn’t support 

The community network members present voted unanimously against the proposed fee.

Members cited problems with targeting groups unfairly or discouraging people who need 911 from calling for help.

“We’re just working from a world where people don’t want to call anyway,” said Kim Hitchcock, a coalition member who works with heroin users.

Other members proposed the hypothetical situations of someone under 16 injuring themselves on a bicycle without a helmet or someone getting in a wreck without wearing a seatbelt.

Elliott said he hadn’t thought of those, the latter of the two because they often end in a fatality.

“To me it’s just a really slippery slope to charge for non-transport calls,” coalition member Liz Whitaker said. “If you’re going to charge for non-transport calls you should charge it to everybody, it seems to me.”

Member Michele Cawley said she already has trouble getting parents of children with peanut allergies to call 911 without adding confusion over fees.

Elliott said the department looks at multiple means to save money on calls, like working to prevent falls among seniors by helping with home lighting or getting them in touch with Meals on Wheels.

“From our perspective, we’re not looking for an EMS system to even come close to touching the segment of the population that needs our services,” Elliott said. “We’re trying to kind of pick off the ones that so clearly fall outside the guidelines we could be safe.”

KVFR already recovers some money for calls related to illegal activities. If someone decides to light his car on fire in his front yard, Elliott said, he’ll get billed for the fire call on top of a Department of Ecology fine.


Elliott said a good share of the no-transport calls come from Central Washington University and local law enforcement.

The policy for resident assistants and others on campus probably dictates calls for an ambulance too often or too quickly, he said.

For instance, he said one can assess whether someone is dangerously drunk by checking three things. If the patient can walk, can form sentences and hasn’t drank in at least an hour, he’ll probably be OK. If one of those is missing, there could be trouble.

“I believe that this is one of the possible positive outcomes of this,” he said. “We could sort of work cooperatively with CWU and a couple of the law enforcement agencies to sort of put in place some very, what I consider to be safe, benchmarks to hit for people.”

Elliott also said it’s conceivable the school could tap the 50-some students certified as EMTs on campus at any given time, and have them on call to respond to incidents that might not be full-blown emergencies before bringing in ambulances.

“CWU does a fairly good job of managing most of those impacts so I don’t want them to come off as the bad guy,” Elliott added. “They’re supposed to advocate for their students, they’re supposed to look out for that stuff.”


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  • Discuss

Welcome to the discussion.


  • Local Resident posted at 11:13 pm on Fri, Mar 15, 2013.

    Local Resident Posts: 404

    APV, The Graph in the Paper plainly showed those who Totally abuse the service, If you can figure that out then I really cant help ya man.. Let me add, If the abilty to See thru complete foolishness is now considered being angry, then Hey MAN sign me up on the angry team haha, What A Joke..hehe..

  • dodge posted at 4:13 pm on Thu, Mar 14, 2013.

    dodge Posts: 744

    Well apparantly you don't share the same view of "The Facts" that KVFR and Mr. Elliot do of this situation. Look at the fact sheet provided in the article, and you will see that over 50% of all calls are for non taxpaying residents. And if you would total up the amount of your tax dollars that are dedicated to this service in a year, you would hardly pay for the phone call for aid. Now if you want to totally support the aid program, you will have to buck up a few more tax dollars.

  • another point of view posted at 6:46 pm on Wed, Mar 13, 2013.

    another point of view Posts: 208

    Dodge, you're the one who needs to do some checking. Without giving away exactly who I am or who I work for because of a conflict of interest, I will just tell you that I know. I am very in on topics of Law Enforcement, EMS and Fire. Especially EPD, almost anytime that there is a fight, accident, overdose, they call for Aid to come check the patient out. That is beyond the patients control. They didn't call, and they didnt need medical attention if they werent transported.

  • dodge posted at 2:35 pm on Wed, Mar 13, 2013.

    dodge Posts: 744

    APV, I think you had better do a fact check on your claim that the PD calls aid every time they encounter a drunk before shooting your mouthoff. This is just a suggestion. You have taken on dar's approach to every issue. You sure you don't live with him? And by the way, how is it that you know so much about the subject to tell someone else they know nothing?

  • another point of view posted at 11:09 pm on Tue, Mar 12, 2013.

    another point of view Posts: 208

    The fire department pays thier staff to sleep in the station all night anyway, we arent spending more for them to respond to a call and 5 minutes later go back to bed after seeing that the drunk person is just that. Police departments have EMS come check out almost everyone who has been drinking that they contact, and it's not the drunk persons call. Then after determining the person doesnt need to go to the hospital they get charged anyway? The root of the problem in this story lies with the staffing procedures of the FD. And LR, if you read your posts, you'd see how ridiculous you sound. You obviously are just angry at something and know nothing about this topic. Move on.

  • Local Resident posted at 12:15 pm on Tue, Mar 12, 2013.

    Local Resident Posts: 404

    Yes Dodge , that was exactly my Point, Not to Mention Most the Culls who use these services dont even pay property taxes of any kind..It sounds to me like many out there just have that cradle to grave mentality.. OH I shouldnt have to pay for nothing no matter how irresponsible I choose to be...The Next thing they all will want is for Goverment to follow them around and wipe their behinds aswell..PATHETIC really. They All should have one person assigned to the to perform all their needs...Is that our future?

  • dodge posted at 10:36 am on Tue, Mar 12, 2013.

    dodge Posts: 744

    People, People, why the arguement of the EMS system charging for their services? Really? So you pay taxes for these services, so you think you are entitled to call anytime for anything and it should be free??? Please go back ten years, and total up the taxes paid for this specific service, then get back to me. Now, who's to say that the next drunk laying in the street on Rodeo weekend, also pays these taxes? More than likely, half of all these type calls are for people that either don't live local and don't pay taxes here, or just don't pay taxes at all.
    Now when the EMS system is dispatched to a call, any call, the person for whom the call is for is not checked for his tax records at the time of the call. And, when called, the EMS system is required to respond, to render aid. When they get to said call, and the person refuses treatment, are they expected to just blow it off to their services being paid for by the tax payers, so we can just leave, and wait for the next one? So what if the person does in fact need aid and transport? should that bill be picked up by the taxpayer also? I think as a tax payer for these kind of services, it would be beyond appropriate to charge for their time in responding to any call, refusal or not. If they don't, there will be at sometime, a need for more taxes to cover the costs of responding to these kind of calls. I'm in on the charging for all calls. When you feel that you or someone else is in need of an ambulance, I think the last thing on your mind should be how much it is going to cost. If your worried that this person could die unless you call aid, and you don't because it might cost too much, that is a responsibility you need to shoulder yourself. Unless your one that does this kind of thing, (makes 911 calls and then refuses treatment,) why worry about it?[wink]

  • Local Resident posted at 11:34 am on Mon, Mar 11, 2013.

    Local Resident Posts: 404

    Let me add, If Ive got enough money to go out and get drunk or doped up, then I should have enough money to pay up when Im being overly Stupid Right.. Plus, if im concerned enough about a freind who needs help in a drunken stooper to call 911,, If he or she cant pay the bill when they sober up, then I guess I will..

  • Local Resident posted at 11:24 am on Mon, Mar 11, 2013.

    Local Resident Posts: 404

    Seriuosly another point, Ya know if Im dumb enough to mix meds with booze, then ya know maybe I would need a wake up call with about a 1000 dollar citation or bill that may or may not get my attention.. Believe me , I know we pay plenty of taxes for these services, but when I send my taxes in every year it doesnt tell me Im paying for stupid dumb people who havent paid anything yet( drunken college kids etc) to call 911 every time someone ODs or wets their pants ok.. If your gonna be stupid and need assistance pay the bill. it will be a lesson well learned, these services in My opinion are for Unforeseen accidents and people with health problems as far as im concerned.. Not ment to be a taxi or local Drunk wagon carting idiots to and fro the hospital. So yes if your Drunk or OD on some other garbage drug, I say Pay bigtime..

  • another point of view posted at 9:49 pm on Sun, Mar 10, 2013.

    another point of view Posts: 208

    We do pay for it. We pay an EMS tax for them to respond to calls. Then they charge extra for an ambulance ride. So let me ask you this. If you took a new medication, drank two beers and had a reaction to it and were acting really drunk, you'd want to be charged extra? People who fall and need help getting up but don't get transported don't get charged. Ask about the numbers for those calls. They pay overtime just the same for those. Shold we charge for that? If we charge for these calls, people will die. Simple as that. College students and others will be afraid to call because they don't want to get charged and their friend they called for will be worse than they thought and will vomit, choke and die. Might be a very small number, but one death because someone is afraid of getting charged to check if someone needs help will be too many.

  • Local Resident posted at 7:25 am on Sat, Mar 9, 2013.

    Local Resident Posts: 404

    Call me ignorant, Call me dumb..but I wasnt aware that Free was a Option in this Case, seriously are your kidding.. They havent been Charging up to this Point..So how does that work, Overdose, call for help, and it doesnt hit somebody in the pocket book.. Whos Idea was it NOT to charge..Unbeleivable... So help me out here, If I got drunk and called for help because I was to inebriated, I could call for help and when they arrive I could say AWWW never mind im ok now..I personally would be expecting atleast a citation of some kind stuffed in my hip pocket... I would say Pay the Tab, or Pay a 1000 dollar fine.. The Price for being Dumb can be very high at times..As it should be..

  • another point of view posted at 9:38 am on Thu, Mar 7, 2013.

    another point of view Posts: 208

    One thing people need to think about here is that we already pay for this service with tax dollars. We pay taxes for EMS services. Now they want more money because of a poor staffing procedure.

  • Whitepanther posted at 5:19 pm on Wed, Mar 6, 2013.

    Whitepanther Posts: 1

    I thought that if a person was under the influence they could not denie a medical transport it was either that or go to jail, one or the other, seeing they are under a substance that alters their mental capciatiy, they are no longer able to say no, it is implied consent or a trip to jail. One or the other. But if you do get a refusal and something was to happen to them you could be held responsible, But seeing you did get them to sign the refusal and you leave, I think that seeing they called you, they should be charged, maybe it will cut down on the misuse of the EMS service for stupid calls

  • another point of view posted at 7:42 pm on Tue, Mar 5, 2013.

    another point of view Posts: 208

    How about you look at your staffing. I know it's a union issue but with 9 firefighters on a shift, your minimum staffing is only 5. That means that 4 people could take the shift off and you're left with 5 at the station. If your staffing level was higher, you wouldnt have to call in someone and pay them overtime as often. problem solved.



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County marijuana rules

The Kittitas County commissioners are considering changes to the county's marijuana zoning rules. What should they do?

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