Fee could apply to non-emergency calls

Local News

DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA) — The fire department could start billing those who call 911 when it’s not an emergency.

Leaders say there has been a 25% increase in alarms the last ten years, even though the city’s population is declining.

Now, they want to talk to city leaders about possibly billing companies which take advantage of the calls.

Fire Chief Gary Ludwig says some non-emergency calls are taking resources away from actual emergencies. The leading call is for lift assists which are classified as “non-emergencies.”

In 2010, the department went on 306 calls, but last year, the number rose to 698.

“That’s a type of call where someone has fallen and they need help up and the dispatcher, if there’s no injuries, all they send is a fire truck.”

It can be dangerous when someone who has fallen can’t get up, but fire officials say some commercial facilities are abusing their right to call for help.

“They call for assistance quite a lot and, when we show up, there are three or four staff workers standing around the person they called for and can’t help the person up because of their company’s liability policy.”

The calls are classified as “non-emergencies” and sometimes tie up resources for someone who is struggling for life or death.

But, Ludwig says some companies and individuals, in Champaign, are calling for free labor and it puts his firefighters in danger.

“We have had our firefighters hurt. We had one individual in town who was extremely obese and she would call us on a daily basis because she fell out of her wheelchair and I had two firefighters hurt as a result of that.”

Decatur is in the beginning stages of changing its protocol. Leaders want to reinstate their emergency medical dispatch so they don’t have to respond to every alarm.

They’ll also be talking to the city council about charging lift assist callers with a possible minimum fee of $150.

“It has nothing to do with the financial part, more to do with them actually taking care of the people that are housed in their facilities instead of relying on us to do it for them.”

Both departments stress they’re always ready to help if you can’t get a neighbor, family member or friend.

Both Decatur and Champaign already charge for false alarm calls. Decatur charges after five calls; Champaign after four. 

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