An Arizona couple was recently left homeless when their mobile home burned to the ground on the night on August 12. After losing their home, they were slapped with almost $20,000 in fees from Rural Metro Fire Department. The Purcells were staying with relatives to prepare for the birth of their new child when they received a call from one of their neighbors telling them that their mobile home was on fire. The couple rushed home to their Maricopa County home in Dixileta, and arrived just in time to see firefighters extinguishing what was left of the blaze.
Two weeks later, the Purcells received a bill for a total of $19,825.
Justin Purcell says that he does not understand why he was receiving it, as he and other area residents pay a fire district assistance tax to help fund volunteer fire departments. As Justin learned the hard way, that tax does not cover the greedy private fire company. Justin found himself facing a charge of $1,500 per Rural Metro truck and $150 per hour per firefighter. The worst part is that the Purcell’s insurance company will not cover the bill, as it does not cover fire departments in county areas.
Interestingly, the Surprise, AZ fire Department (which is seven miles from the home) was first on the scene, having done most of the work before Rural Metro (which is twenty miles away), even arrived at the fire. Given that First Responders had already dealt with the flames and arrived a half hour sooner than Rural Metro, the Purcells only saw TWO Rural Metro thugs doing anything, and the fire was already out when they arrived, Rural Metro sure feels entitled to that $20,000! “They are milking it. I was there the whole night, and there was probably two of their men actually doing any work. The other ones were standing around bullshitting,” Justin Purcell said of Rural Metro’s amazing service.
Colin Williams, the Rural Metro public information officer, told the Huffington Post that he feels the outrageous bill is justified. In an e-mail, he informed Huffpo that “This family, like many others, elected to not pay their annual fire service bill. Others in their area pay Rural/Metro for fire protection.”
Williams claims the yearly subscription fee to Rural Metro’s protection racket is “roughly $290 a year.” This by itself is outrageous, but a neighbor’s bill tells a different story — $474 yearly. Williams admitted to FOX 10 that they only did the cleanup afterwards, and asserted that the bill included payment of the other fire department. But what of the fire district assistance tax that residents pay?
While residents who did receive bills were skeptical of the outrageous charges Rural Metro claimed it was owed, it seems the tax helps fund volunteer firefighters rather than acting as a payment for fire coverage. In fact, neighbors were skeptical of the charges because they already paid the tax which, they assumed, was for their fire coverage.
According to neighbor Kelly Miller, residents were unaware they had no fire coverage until after the Purcell’s house fire. FOX 10 says that residents assumed that Rural Metro was simply trying to make a buck — a charge that Colin Williams denied. But why were they there when the Surprise fire department is seven miles closer? Why did they come at all? Williams claimed that they have a mutual aid agreement with the Surprise fire department. When asked by FOX 10 if he could show the agreement, he back-peddled on the claim, saying “well, it’s more of a gentleman’s agreement.”
The Purcells say that they would have paid the subscription fee, had they known it existed. However, they had never received a letter from Rural/Metro. In fact, Rural Metro had only recently begun marketing subscriptions in the area–because its closest station was 20 miles away. Some have questioned if Rural Metro’s recent Chapter 11 was somehow connected to their predatory behavior. It was so not connected that Colin Williams specifically asked the Huffington Post not to mention it. Kasia Purcell is worried about how they are going to get past this:
“We don’t know what to do. 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?”
A fund has been set up with Wells Fargo to assist the Purcell family. Anyone interested can make a donation online or at any branch to the “Purcell Family Fire” fund. The account number is 6745432424.
h/t: Huffington Post