Athlone Town Council has approved a new set of fire callout charges, which includes a new flat rate of €675 for fire incidents and a charge of €500 for chimney fires.
Councillors approved the new charges at a special meeting of the council on Tuesday this week, in spite of some reservations in particular surrounding the increase in the chimney fire rate from €150 to €500.
Cllr Paul Hogan was not in favour of passing the new rates.
The new flat rate of €675 will replace the previous charging regime, which charged people €475 for a daytime callout and €950 for a night-time, weekend, or public holiday call.
This 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 as a uniform rate will apply.
However several councillors expressed concern about the potential effect of the rates on people who do not have home insurance.
“I understand the flat charge, but I am concerned about the increase in the chimney fire charge from €150 to €500, that’s over 200 per cent of an increase which seems a massive jump,” said Cllr Sheila Buckley Byrne.
While she said she had rung around insurance companies and is happy that chimney fires are covered by the majority of policies, she advised householders to check with their insurance company to make sure the costs would be covered.
Mr Stuart said 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, as they have already paid their insurance.”
He added that the council is sympathetic to anyone in hardship and to those who apply for waivers.
“The council is very sympathetic to those in financial hardship, and in the past 10 years there was only one waiver that was not granted. We have no problem accepting payments over a period of time,” he added.