Top officials at the city fire department may cancel the bills for paramedic services for the families of two good Samaritans who were electrocuted at a traffic crash in Valley Village, and will make an announcement on the issue Monday.
"The city fire department administration is going to address that issue publicly tomorrow," Los Angeles City Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey told City News Service.
Humphrey, however, declined to discuss the details of the announcement or whether the fee adjustment would include the other five civilians who suffered electrical burns.
"The administration will speak for themselves," Humphrey said. "They will discuss the issue tomorrow."
Publicly hailed as heroes, 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 six people, including a Los Angeles police officer, were also treated at the scene and five of them were later transported to hospitals.
However, it was expected that the families of the two dead women and the five civilian would-be rescuers would soon receive legally mandated bills from the city for the emergency services they received, such as hospital transport and on-scene medical paramedic treatment, a fire department official told City News Service.
The city's municipal code does not allow billing exemptions for good Samaritans, or the victims of violent crime, fire department spokesman Humphrey said Friday.
For example, people who get shot in a drive-by attack and get treated, then taken to a hospital by city fire paramedics get charged for the services they received, he said.
"We can't decide who's innocent, who gets a bill and who doesn't," Humphrey said Friday. "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 recouped from the billing is returned to the city and eventually is figured back into the city budget.
The city began charging people for paramedic services sometime in the 1970s, he said.
"There was a time when the fire department did it for free, but that was a long time ago," Humphrey said.
Humphrey pointed 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 fee waiver.
In the Valley Village case, Arman Samsonian, 19, of Glendale, is being investigated for excessive speed and reckless driving in connection with the fatal chain of events on Magnolia Boulevard.
No charges have been filed.
The people injured in this case can attempt to be reimbursed by the driver's insurance carrier or they could sue the driver, Humphrey said.
However, sometimes people just don't pay. In those cases, a past due account would be turned over to an collection agency hired by the city, 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 passed to the fire department's Emergency Medical Services Unit, which is responsible for billing people or their insurance companies to recover service costs.
Fees for emergency services are published, and in August 2010 those fees were raised by a City Council motion introduced by Councilman Bernard Parks and seconded by Councilman Greig Smith. The city code change was approved by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
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 fiscal years ending in 2011.
Of that total, the department adjusted the total billings downward by about $9.4 million and collected $27 million, leaving an outstanding uncollected balance of $37.3 million, according to city documents reviewed by CNS.
Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings reported to the council that the $37.3 million figure represented 92,403 individual accounts of less than $5,000 each.
The council agreed to write off those accounts.