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Why was I billed for an emergency response I didn’t ask for?

Eric Lai explains the MTO roadside billing system

Published April 8, 2013
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: I was on QEW Niagara (Town of Lincoln) when my hood flew open, impacting the windshield. I calmly pulled over and called CAA. There was no collision.

To my surprise, an ambulance, two fire trucks and police then arrived. I didn’t call 911, so apparently a passing motorist did. MTO invoiced me $922.50 for fire department response that I neither requested nor required.

From my observation, the fire department did little on scene. I’ve yet to make any insurance claim and feel this invoice is unfair.

Ontario Transportation Ministry spokesperson Bob Nichols replies:

Since the 1970s, an arrangement has been in place with the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs whereby MTO pays municipal fire departments for responding to incidents on provincial highways.

The ministry then recovers costs from the responsible motorist.

Fire departments are compensated for responding, regardless of whether emergency services were provided. Fire departments may opt out of the agreement and instead invoice vehicle owners/insurance companies directly.

Decisions about liability are based on police and fire department reports. The Ministry’s authority to invoice for such claims is under the Highway Traffic Act.

The vehicle owner has the option of discussing the liability with his/her insurance company. If the owner disputes the bill, they can provide their facts to the ministry to consider, in addition to police and fire deptartment reports.

The policy is applied fairly to all incidents in Ontario. Upon receipt of a 911 call, fire departments are obligated to respond. There is a standard $410 per hour per vehicle call-out charge for fire service calls to incidents on provincial highways.

Steve Kee of the Insurance Bureau of Canada forwarded this response from their Consumer Information Centre staff:

“I can tell you from experience that these bylaws are enforceable. I tried the argument that fire departments operating expenses are paid for by my taxes but to no avail. If there is an auto insurance claim covered by an insured peril, then paragraph 7.4.1 says that the fire department charges are included in the settlement. Similarly, if there is a claim on a property policy, then fire department charges are covered up to a specified limit. In your reader’s case, if the driver were to submit a claim, the fire department charges would be covered by his auto insurance policy.”

As for local streets, Steve Johnston, spokesperson for the City of Toronto adds:

Our transportation department takes all steps available to recoup the costs associated with responding to collisions on the city of Toronto road network.

Eric Lai adds:

For the record, Toronto and Ottawa have opted in for MTO billing for services performed on provincial highways.

Greg Hudson, Lincoln Township fire chief, advises that two fire trucks were sent as per workplace safety regulations. Minimum charge is one hour per vehicle.

Apparently, insurers are routinely invoiced by municipalities and MTO for fire services response. In this instance, since no insurance claim was made, the driver was invoiced directly.

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