Fire brigade call out charges a bad idea

There have been a couple of occasions in my life when I have had to call the fire brigade. Not often, thank God, but often enough to know that when you need them you are likely to need them badly.

Last year there was a fire beyond our back wall, close to a neighbour’s house, that was probably caused by a flicked cigarette. The flames engulfed a tree and spread to the roof of the house and did serious damage. We were the ones who noticed it first and so, as we were all told since we were very small children, we called 999 immediately.

That’s what you do and that advice should not change. But very worryingly people may now be reluctant to call for help when they need it for the very worst of reasons: money.

In the last few years local authorities have started charging for emergency call outs. The amount varies considerably. Some authorities don’t charge at all where others charge €500 for the first hour and €450 per hour thereafter. Mayo is cheaper than Galway, Westmeath is dearer than both. But I dare say that no homeowner realises this until after they have made the call.

Now I understand that these services cost money to provide. I understand also that money is in very short supply these days. Even so this strikes me as an extremely bad idea. If people become reluctant to make an emergency call because they worry about getting a bill it could very easily be a disaster.

AA has 50,000 odd Home Insurance customers so we know first-hand that house fires do a serious amount of damage even when they are not life-threatening. Smoke damage can be ruinous. We have calculated from our own book that an insurance claim after a house fire will cost an average of €15,000 when clean-up costs are included.

Fire is probably the only way in which a house can be totally lost and require rebuilding from the ground up. Those total losses are very rare but they do happen, which is why people buy insurance in the first place.

One of the most common types of domestic fire is a chimney fire. Smoke rising up the flue will coat the sides of the chimney over time with a highly combustible substance called Creosote. This can burn violently enough to cause structural damage.

A chimney should be swept at least once per year by a qualified CSAI-registered chimney sweep. Now that we have arrived at what is laughingly termed ‘late Spring’ in Ireland (more daylight and slightly warmer rain ) it is actually a good time to get that done as the fireplace won’t be in use.

Again if you have to call the fire brigade because you suspect a chimney fire then in most local authority areas there will be a charge. It is usually slightly lower than for other types of fire and where it is charged it will be an average of between €250 and €300.

If you have the slightest suspicion then please call for help. Don’t try to tackle it yourself and don’t worry about the money. A chimney fire can get out of hand very quickly. The damage will be more severe and it could even put your family in danger.

Your home insurance should cover it although it would be a good idea to check that with your home insurer now. In the AA’s case, precisely because we think charging is such a rotten idea, it is fully covered up to €3,000 once you make a normal valid claim. There is no excess on that (i.e. you don’t have to pay any of the cost ). But others may differ.

I do not grudge the fire services the money but there has to be a better way. Given that most of the cost of this is borne by insurance companies in the end we must surely be able to work something out whereby the hard-pressed home-owner does not have to fork out first.

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