Nfld. & Labrador

$500 fire response bill raises ire of O'Donnell's woman

What began as a $31 chimney repair cost for a woman in O'Donnell's has grown to a $500 bill from the St. Joseph's Town Council.

St. Joseph's mayor says Hickey charged because she lives in an unincorporated municipality

Geri Hickey is questioning why the St. Joseph's Town Council billed her for $500, following a chimney fire at her home last month. (Courtesy Geri Hickey)

What began as a $31 chimney repair cost for a woman in O'Donnell's has grown to a $500 bill from the St. Joseph's Town Council.

One evening last month, Geri Hickey received a phone call that her home's chimney was on fire. 

Hickey contacted the volunteer fire department in neighbouring St. Joseph's, which provides local fire services.

However, Hickey's neighbour quickly came to the rescue.

"The creosote had built up there on the top of the chimney and he [the neighbour] had it out by the time the fire [department] rolled down."

Hickey said the cost of the damage was $31, so when the St. Joseph's Town Council sent her a bill for $500 this week, she couldn't believe it.

Geri Hickey says she was not prepared for a $500 fire response bill from the St. Joseph's Town Council. (CBC)
"If they had used some canisters to put the fire out … even if they had to take a ladder off, but they didn't have to use anything," she said.

Hickey asked the mayor of St. Joseph's for an explanation.

"The mayor told me that it was an unwritten policy. So I guess somewhere along the line somebody came up with this and said, 'Well we'll charge them.' That's all I can see."

St. Joseph's Mayor Mary Moylan said residents in her town pay property taxes, which pay for services such as fire response.

But because O'Donnell's is an unincorporated municipality and does not pay property taxes, the town billed Hickey to cover its costs.

St. Joseph's provides fire services to the communities of Forest Field, New Bridge and O'Donnell's. 

Moylan said this has been a long-standing procedure.

"The precedent was established well over 30 years ago for these outlying communities, and normally the charges are paid by the insurance company of the resident."

"We incur charges. There are huge charges with regard to the fire truck, the truck alone cost $250,000. And we have charges associated with that, like the fire equipment, the gas for the truck, repairs and maintenance, and housing for the truck. Quite a few charges."
St. Joseph's Mayor Mary Moylan. (CBC)

Moylan said there is a process of appeal that Hickey can avail of.

"She was told to file an objection via writing, [and] that will be taken to the next council meeting which will be in April. And then we would make a decision as to whether she has to pay it or not, or whether the insurance company is paying it."