A new callout charge of €675 for fire incidents has been approved for Westmeath.
The flat rate is to replace the previous charging regime, which charged people €475 for a daytime callout and €950 for a night-time, weekend, or public holiday call.
The new charge will apply to all domestic callouts, with the exception of chimney fires which will be charged at a rate of €500. Some exemptions will apply, and there will be an opportunity for people to appeal the charges.
According to Westmeath chief fire officer David Stuart, the new charging system will enable the council to collect money from insurance companies more quickly.
Not all councillors were impressed with the change, however. Fianna Fáil’s Cllr Paddy Hill said the council should reject the “unfair charge”.
“This massive increase will hit low income families; not everyone is covered by insurance,” he said.
“I fully accept that fire services don’t come cheaply, but our party is not prepared to support this. Why fix the charge if we can go after the insurance companies; why do we need a fixed charge when old or vulnerable people would be afraid to call out the fire services?”
However county manager Dan McLoughlin said the principal reason for the change was to make it easier to collect money from insurance companies.
“Insurance companies often ring us for the cost of a fire callout; it takes us more than a week to get that information and at times it can go into a dispute. We decided to defer to the more common approach; there is less of an imposition if we charge the correct amount from the insurance company in the first place.
Mr Stuart added that it is estimated that 10 to 15 per cent of people’s homes are not insured.
“We are trying to collect from the insurance companies, it is not an additional charge on the people of Westmeath as the majority are covered by insurance. It doesn’t affect the householder, they have already paid their insurance.”
Councillors approved the new charging system by a majority of 14 to six.