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Should you have to pay for a fire dept call? Jim Thorpe says yes

By John Craven, Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published On: Oct 23 2012 07:00:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 25 2012 05:11:32 AM CDT

It seems like we pay for everything these days, but what if you got a bill for calling the fire department?

JIM THORPE, Pa. -

It seems like we pay for everything these days, but what if you got a bill for calling the fire department? It's happening in one of our region's most popular tourist destinations, and it might just cost you the next time you visit.

In the fall, visitors flock to Jim Thorpe to see those gorgeous colors. But if you have an emergency in this Carbon County borough, expect to pay up.

"Anywhere from hundreds of dollars to well over a thousand dollars," said Vince Yaich, Jim Thorpe's assistant fire chief.

The borough's fire departments are now charging people for car accidents, rescue calls, and hazardous materials situations. The move comes after a huge spike in rescues at nearby Glen Onoko Park and the Lehigh Gorge, including a five-hour ordeal locating two hikers this weekend.

"We're usually up there every weekend -- sometimes two and three times in a weekend," said Yaich.

Artists Manny DaCosta from Lehighton spends most weekends at the park, and often sees careless hikers testing the limits without the proper boots and gear.

"It's treacherous, and they're walking around like that just waiting to get hurt, and our fire department's here all the time just carrying them off," he said.

Visitors are cool to the idea, saying fire department calls should be a free public service.

"I think it stinks," said Donald Stehman of Sinking Spring. "This is supposed to be something for the citizens to have, something that we need."

Dave Garvey of Lebanon agreed: "I think it should be spread out over the whole county population rather than an individual who is involved in an accident."

But fire officials said the cost of ropes and other rescue equipment adds up -- not for tourists or the state parks service, but for local taxpayers.

"We don't know what else to do," said Yaich. "We can't keep going after the residents of town to cover us."

Some wonder, though, if people will be more hesitant to call 911 in an emergency if they know they have to pay for the response.

"I don't think so," said Yaich. "When they're lost or they're hurt, their primary concern is getting -- they just want to get out of there."

For now, Yaich said Jim Thorpe only plans to recoup the money from insurance companies, not individuals. But if you find yourself on the wrong end of a rescue there, someone's going to pay up.