Evaluating Emergency Responder Fees Furthers Appropriate Reimbursement

April 1, 2001
REIMBURSING emergency responders for their services after an accident can prove expensive if steps aren't taken to appropriately evaluate the charges.

REIMBURSING emergency responders for their services after an accident can prove expensive if steps aren't taken to appropriately evaluate the charges. However, there are measures available that are fair to both parties, said Thomas Moses, president of Spill Center, Acton, Massachusetts.

The first priority: be responsive. Companies should respond immediately upon receiving a bill they believe is inaccurate. Delay only complicates later efforts, he said. Moses discussed the subject at the Chemical Week Transportation and Distribution Conference conducted January 22-23, 2001, in Houston, Texas.

Company managers who are handling the account should act in a professional manner, even when the charges are outrageous, which is not uncommon. Anger, irrational remarks, and threats are self-defeating, he pointed out.

“It is important to understand what is properly payable,” Moses added. Waiting until an accident happens to learn about responder responsibilities and what is reimbursable will complicate appropriate challenges to the charges.

Companies should train managers who will be handling the accounts to understand how public entities operate and what authority they have for collecting reimbursement. For example, most cities, counties, and state bodies have ordinances and laws that dictate the reimbursement process. It is not unusual for two or more of the city, county, and federal responders to turn out for an incident and then request reimbursement for their services.

“Always ask for copies of the local ordinances and state laws that apply to responder reimbursement,” he said.

In some instances, he pointed out, the responders are authorized to seek reimbursement, but not from the company that has generated the spill. In others, they are not authorized at all to seek reimbursement.

Immediate actions that can be taken by an account manager include requests for an itemized invoice, name and telephone number of person to contact, documentation and receipts for work done, incident report, responder time sheets, and fee schedules. Often overlooked are the math errors on the bill itself, cautioned Moses.

In many instances, the documentation will be incomplete, which means managers should contact the responders for further information. “Make a phone call,” said Moses. “Send a letter.”

When the itemized invoice is received, it should be checked to be certain all items are reimbursable. “Pay the items you believe are accurate,” he added. “That always helps in the long run.” If insurance companies are handling the account, they should be prompted to scrutinize the charges accordingly.

Companies should be aware that some entities will not have available documentation and their scope of work may be in question. Responders may submit bills for equipment and supplies that are reusable and undamaged. They may dispatch an inappropriate number of vehicles to the scene of the incident and then try to pass the expense to the spill generator. In rare instances, they may just “fake it,” not having appropriate authority for reimbursement, he said.