VALLEY VILLAGE (CBS) — To most people in Los Angeles, the two women who died trying to save the life of a motorist who crashed in Valley Village Wednesday are heroes.
The city of Los Angeles, however, is sending those women’s families a bill.
They are charging their estates for emergency services.
The four other civilians who were burned in the incident will also be getting mandatory bills from the L.A. fire department for emergency services such as hospital transport and on-scene medical treatment rendered by paramedics, a fire department spokesman explained to City News Service.
Stacey Lee Schreiber, 39, and Irma Zamora, 40, raced to help a stricken motorist following a crash Wednesday evening, and were electrocuted by an estimated 4,800 volts of power that flowed from a snapped streetlight fixture into water from a sheared fire hydrant that had flooded a crash scene.
Another five people, including a Los Angeles police officer, were treated for electrical burns.
Arman Samsonian, 19, of Glendale, is being investigated for excessive speed in connection with the fatal chain of events on Magnolia Boulevard in Valley Village. No charges have been filed. Authorities told CBS2 and KCAL9 reporter Amanda Burden on Thursday street racing might have been the cause of the crash.
The city’s municipal code does not allow billing exemptions for Good Samaritans, or the victims of violent crime, fire department spokesman Brian Humphrey told CNS. That means even innocent bystanders who get shot in a drive-by attack and who get treated and transported to a hospital by city fire paramedics get charged for the services they received.
“We can’t decide who’s innocent, who gets a bill and who doesn’t,” Humphrey said. “We have no control over this. We are mandated by the city council and the mayor to bill citizens for the services rendered by paramedics and that’s what we do.”
Humphrey said the money that’s recouped from the billing is returned to the city coffers and eventually is figured back into the city budget. The city, he explained, began charging people for paramedic services sometime back in the 1970s.
“There was a time when the fire department did it for free but that was a long time ago,” Humphrey said.
However, Humphrey points out that citizens do have some “recourses for redress.” If a person is indigent or has low income they can appeal the bill and ask for a waiver of the fees.” Or they can attempt to be reimbursed by the driver’s insurance carrier, he said.
Of course, sometimes people just don’t pay. However, any outstanding account that is not paid is sent to collections, Humphrey said.
In this case, the city-hired collection agency is NCO Financial, according to city records filed with the City Clerk’s office.
Under the current system, paramedics are mandated to document any and all services, including hospital transport. Those records are then passed on to the fire department’s Emergency Medical Services Unit, which is responsible for billing people or their insurance company to recover the costs of the services.
In 2010, fees for “Advanced Life Support Services Fee” were raised from $1,004 to $1,373 per patient and “Basic Life Support Fee” from $712 to $974 per patient. But the cost of transport by city ambulance was kept the same: $15.75 per mile, one way service.
In 2011, the fire department reported it had billed a total of about $73.7 million for emergency services for the seven years ending in 2011.
Of that total, the department had adjusted the total billings downward by about $9.4 million and collected $27 million, leaving an outstanding balance unpaid and uncollected by NCO Financial of $37.3 million, according to city documents reviewed by CNS.