Monday, June 04, 2007

"Often times, it is not the town itself that keeps Bristol firefighters busy. It's the Toll Road."

Toll Road accidents taxing area fire departments


By Dustin Grove
WSBT-TV Reporter
South Bend Tribune
Copyright 2007

Responding to Indiana Toll Road accidents and cleaning up the wreckage can be costly for local fire departments. So, they're asking for help from the private company that now runs the Toll Road.

Toll Road officials say the policy is for local fire departments to charge the people involved in the accidents, not the Toll Road — and there are no plans to change that policy.

Often times, it is not the town itself that keeps Bristol firefighters busy. It's the Toll Road, which is less than a mile away. Last year, it was considered the deadliest interstate in Indiana per mile.

In the last 18 months, there has been "a five-person fatal," said Bristol Fire Chief Bill Dempster.

"We had another five people who ended up burning to death," Dempster said. "We had another one where we had three dead."

And on April 26, eight were killed in a pile-up in a construction zone.

Fire crews often stay on the scene for five, six or seven hours fighting fire, removing the injured or killed and helping with clean-up. The costs, they say, can be in the thousands.

“We've had two or three sets of fire gear destroyed," Dempster added.

Those local fire departments, already battling tight budgets, say when they respond to an accident, they would like to get financial help from the private company that now runs the Toll Road.

"We have been going up there for years for free and I’m afraid we're going to have to continue doing it for free. But it would be nice if we could at least recoup our expenses up there," Dempster said.

Dempster added he did try, sending a $1,500 bill to the Toll Road, but got it back.

"They said we're not going to pay the bill. It was a nice letter though," he said.

Local chiefs admit it's been more than two decades since the state paid them for their service on the Toll Road.

In a statement, the consortium that now runs the roadway says the policy won't change, urging fire and rescue departments to bill the person who caused the accident.

"We believe the best course of action for Fire and Rescue Departments to recover funds is to bill the person responsible for the accident. This would mirror the procedure we follow when our facility is damaged during an incident," said Matt Pierce, spokesperson for ITR Concession Company, LLC.

"That's easier said than done. If they're out of state, they generally don't pay," Dempster said.

The Elkhart Fire Department did have a contract with the state to respond to hazardous material spills until this year.

"We were paid so much for that response based on hours and response. That doesn't exist now," said Elkhart Fire Chief Richard Snell.

The chief said the Indiana Toll Road also told him to bill the person responsible for the accident.

None of the departments say this will prevent them from responding to accidents on the Toll Road. They will still be there when they're needed.

They're just hoping they can talk the Toll Road to see if they can perhaps negotiate something.

© 2007 The South Bend Tribune:

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