Emergency services could be able to charge with new bill going through Pierre

RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) - Ambulance services and road-side towing operators can legally bill insurance providers for expenses, but not fire departments, search and rescue, or law enforcement and now those agencies are doing something about it.

Rapid City has multiple paramedic vehicles.

With a vote of 33-0, Senate Bill 56 is headed to the house.

Introduced by Senator Lance Russell, the bill is aimed at authorizing responding agencies to recoup necessary operational costs from a patient's insurance company.

Jerome Harvey is the fire administrator for Pennington County.

"The bill really addresses the South Dakota value of being responsible for yourself and having personal accountability for yourself," said Harvey. "That's a strong trait here in South Dakota and we want people in South Dakota, especially its fifteen billion visitors a year to be responsible for themselves when they're out on public ground."

Volunteers make up a big portion of the state's first responders, 92.8 percent of the fire service and 100 percent of search and rescue.

Todd Tobin says not being able to recoup expenses costs fire departments tens of thousands of dollars each year.

"Any of those costs; wear and tear of tires, gas, oil, supplies, purchasing of equipment is all put back on local entity and back to the taxpayers and back to the fundraisers that were done locally," said Harvey. "When in fact a majority of the people that are on public ground do not live in the state period."

With 15 million people coming through the state, accidents are bound to happen.

"Those people will go out onto public grounds such as federal lands, national parks, etc.. and they will end up needing search and rescue services and there's no way for the local entities to recoup any costs that are involved in that and insurance companies will simply say there's no state statute for that, therefore, you can not legally charge my client," said Harvey.

At least six other states have similar laws allowing agencies like search and rescue to try and recover their costs.