Arizona Firefighters Charge Family Nearly $20,000 After Home Burns Down

Huffington Post – by David Lohr

An Arizona couple recently left homeless when their mobile home burned to the ground couldn’t believe their eyes when they received a bill for nearly $20,000 from a private fire department.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Justin Purcell told The Huffington Post. “We lost our home, we just had a baby and now we’re going through this. It’s crazy. We don’t know how we are going to come up with the money.”  

Justin and Kasia Purcell’s home went up in flames on the night of Aug. 12. The Purcells, who were staying with relatives because they were preparing for the birth of a child, were not home at the time of the fire. A neighbor notified them of the blaze, and they made the 45-minute drive to their home in Surprise, a city in Maricopa County. They arrived just in time to see firefighters extinguish flames from what was left of their house. The home was a total loss, and the cause of the blaze is undetermined.

Two weeks later, on Aug. 27, the couple received a bill from Rural Metro Fire Department for $19,825. The bill included charges of $1,500 per fire truck and $150 dollars per hour for firefighters.

Justin Purcell said he was shocked by the bill and did not understand why he was receiving it, considering he and other local residents pay a fire district assistance tax to help fund volunteer fire departments. However, that tax, he soon learned, does not cover Rural Metro Fire Department because it is an independent agency.

The Purcells’ next step was to contact their insurance company.

“I was told by our insurance company that they don’t cover fire departments in county areas,” Justin Purcell said. “I asked our insurance [representative] what the typical city fire department charges them and he said he had never seen a bill for anything over five or six thousand dollars.”

Contacted by HuffPost on Monday, Colin Williams, the public information officer for Rural Metro, said the bill is justified.

“This family, like many others, elected to not pay their annual fire service bill,” Williams said in an email. “Others in their area pay Rural/Metro for fire protection.”

The annual subscription, according to Williams, is “roughly $290 per year.” However, a subscription bill from a neighbor of the Purcells shows the fee to be $474 per year.

The Purcells claim they would have paid for the subscription had they known it existed.

“We would have paid it in a heartbeat,” Kasia Purcell said. “We never received a letter from them.”

Williams said the family elected not to subscribe.

“Of course they knew they had an obligation/option to pay our annual subscription. … They, along with others across Arizona, in areas we serve, elected to … roll the dice that they would not have a fire — they lost,” he said. “We provided service to them and now they are mad. This is not new. We bill for unsubscribed fires all of the time. … Why should these people ride the coat tails [SIC] of their neighbors who elect [to] have a fire service contract with us?”

According to FOX 10 News, people living in the Purcells’ neighborhood were clueless about the Rural Metro subscription plan until after the Purcells’ fire.

“Coincidentally, we all received a bill from Rural Metro fire informing us we have no fire coverage in our area, so they highly suggested we finally begin paying some fire coverage that we didn’t currently have,” the Purcells’ neighbor, Kelly Miller, told Fox 10 News.

Fox 10 also reported that Rural Metro has acknowledged they did not market subscriptions in that area until recently.

It should also be noted that Surprise firefighters were first on the scene at the Purcells’ mobile home fire. According to Fox 10, they arrived approximately 13 minutes after the fire started. Their firehouse is located about seven miles from the Purcells’ home. Rural Metro, the Purcells said, did not arrive until much later. The Rural Metro firehouse is approximately 20 miles away.

“They weren’t even the first responders,” Justin Purcell said. “We arrived 45 minutes after the fire started, and it was pretty much extinguished by Surprise. Rural Metro showed up after we were already there. They basically did a mop-up — saturated the hotspots with water.”

Justin and Kasia Purcell said they were never told by firefighters dispatched by Rural Metro that they would be charged.

“We never asked Rural Metro to come out, and they never said we would be charged. We just thought they were helping us,” Kasia Purcell said.

Justin Purcell added, “If I had known we were being billed, I would have grabbed the garden hose and doused it myself.”

The family also questions the $150-per-hour bill for the firefighters.

“They are milking it,” Justin Purcell said. “I was there the whole night, and there was probably two of their men actually doing any work. The other ones were standing around bulls***ting.”

According to Channel 10 news, residents in the area are suspicious of the fees Rural Metro is charging. The company recently filed for bankruptcy, the media outlet reported. In an email to HuffPost, Williams asked that the bankruptcy be left out of this article.

“The story that ran on Fox 10 in Phoenix was a ratings hatchet job. … Please don’t link our recent chapter 11 to this story,” Williams said.

The Purcells are still debating what action they will take next. They are also trying to figure out how to get back on their feet.

“We don’t know what to do,” Kasia Purcell said. “This was all unexpected. We had paid our taxes for the volunteer fire department, and we had insurance. We thought we had covered all our bases. Why would we think we didn’t, especially when the volunteer fire department was just seven miles from our house?”

She added, “I gave birth on Sept. 13. We now have a newborn and at this point we don’t even have money to replace our home.”

6 thoughts on “Arizona Firefighters Charge Family Nearly $20,000 After Home Burns Down

  1. Ah, yes. Maricopa County, Arizona, home of the famous (or infamous) Sheriff Arpaio. Is he doing anything to rein in organized fraud and extortion in his county? No? What a surprise! (sarcasm)

  2. FIRE THE WHOLE FD and start over with REAL firefighters that care from the heart not the Paycheck. They can assorb the cost , and If they want people to suscribe go door to door leave a envelope and notice. But I feel as a retired captain there is a bad department here. JMHO

    1. Earlier this morning, I sent an email to the reporter, asking the following:

      1. If Rural Metro bills for ‘unsubscribed fires’ all the time, do they have copies of recent fire bills for similar house fires?

      2. Rural Metro was 20 miles away, which driving in a car isn’t far, but is a helluva long way for a fire truck to respond. In other word, they weren’t part of the original dispatch that responded to the fire. So, who called in Rural Metro or did they listen to a scanner and decide to respond on their own?

      Here’s the money question: Rural Metro arrived 45 minutes or more after the fire alarm was sounded? That’s WAY too long, so it begs the question: Did Rural Metro actually have fire trucks in station that were staffed with firefighters ready to roll, or did they only have a driver, who had to wait for a certain number of personnel to show up before the fire truck could respond to the fire?
      If RM only had a driver in-station who had to wait for firefighters to arrive, then the Purcells’ are being charged 20K for the services a volunteer fire department.

      Thanks for the great story.

      P.S. I’ve looked over that bill several times, and it appears to be padded with redundant services.

      RM is only interested in the bottom line, not saving lives and property.

  3. I would tell Rural Metro Fire to call 1-800-EAT-SHIT! This case is just as bad as the ambulance scams you hear about in New York City and other areas. No one called Rural Metro and asked them to come out, the local fire department was handling the blaze. I guess this is just another example of what a backwards bizarre world we now live in. One thing is for sure, I wouldn’t pay them a damn penny!

  4. This same type of thing happened to me eariler this year when I had my acar accident… Somebody called the fire/rescue after I told them all I needed was a tow truck – when there is a accident and a tow truck is called they allways call a the damned cops. Any way the point is that they called after I said they were not needed and I got the bill. I said send the bill to the caller and they had the nerve to tell me they didn`t have called id and that they didn`t know whomthe caller was so I get the bill. I said BS they have no caller ID. Also when there is a fire/ rescue call that they will bill you even though they do not even open the garage doors of the fire dept. – and yes it was $150.00 if they just open the doors and get get behind the wheel, they do not even have to turn the ignition switch to the frie truck, plus you get billed $50.00 per fireman – which was five of them and they never even opene dthe departments garage doors or even started the tankers truck, and yes I got a $180.00 bill for the ambulence that wasn`t need…..This billing like what happened to me and these people that lost their trailer happens all around this country and not just in Az….. By the way – I`m not paying them extortionists a dime, and I hope these guys do not either.

  5. It’s all about the money. Period. End of Story.

    They say psychopaths are only 4 percent of the world’s population…sometimes I think they make up 20 percent of America’s!

    This is just as bad as that prosecutor-turned-judge who withheld evidence and put an innocent man behind bars for 25 years!

    In other words, folks, it isn’t just the elites who are this way. We are more and more ALL becoming psychopaths!

Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *