South Africa’s municipalities charge you if you call the fire department – How much you will pay

Municipal emergency services are allowed to charge you for call-outs, depending on what they are called out for.

According to the Fire Brigade Services Act, a controlling authority can charge fees for the attendance of the service, for the use of the service and equipment, or for any material consumed.

This had led to situations where residents in several municipalities have been charged thousands of rands for fire department call-outs.

One Johannesburg resident was invoiced for over R6,000 by the fire department for their help in putting out a fire which completely destroyed her home.

“Communities are expected to pay for the services rendered by the fire department – just like any other services offered by the City of Johannesburg. There is a perception that the services are free, which is not correct,” Johannesburg EMS told the Randburg Sun.

Charging citizens

MyBroadband spoke to the City of Tshwane and the City of Cape Town about the practice of charging for call-outs.

Tshwane’s emergency services department confirmed that a call-out fee was charged by the fire department based on the resource type required and a further utilisation cost.

“Fees are for actual working of a resource type at an incident and subject to any exemptions that may be applicable for a particular incident,” it said.

Citizens are invoiced for the amount owed as part of their monthly municipal bill, and they can contest these fees by submitting a request to the municipality.

“Billing is in accordance with council policy, and a resident who has utilised the service will be invoiced for such service as part of his/her monthly service utilities invoice from the City, but only after it has been confirmed against the exemptions provided for in the Tariff Policy that such a resident is liable for such fees payable,” the department said.

“Provision is further made that, should a person who is billed for emergency services be aggrieved by the fees payable, such a person may submit a request for a reassessment of the fees payable. This is in accordance with Section 10(3) of the Fire Brigade Services Act, 1987.”

Costs – Tshwane

It should be noted that the fire department does not charge for urban search and rescue operations, including confined space rescue, trench rescue, structural collapse rescue, water rescue, rope rescue, and other specialist rescue operations.

The approved call-out and hourly utilisation cost for Tshwane’s fire and rescue operations are shown below:

Type of vehicle Call-out cost Utilisation cost per hour
Engine pumper R636 R1,895
Ariel apparatus R636 R1,935
Hazmat vehicle R636 R1,445
Water tanker R636 R1,890
Bush pumper R636 R900

The above gives an idea of how much it costs for vehicle and equipment call-outs, but the fire department may also charge citizens for the cost of firefighting materials.

The cost of dry chemical powder (DCP), carbon dioxide, and other extinguishing resources is listed below.

Resource Cost
DCP – 4.5kg R181
DCP – 9kg R350
CO2 – 2.5kg R100
CO2 – 5kg R200
Foam – 1 litre R78
Flamezorb – 25-litre bag R135

Costs – Cape Town

City of Cape Town executive director for safety and security Richard Bosman told MyBroadband that their charges depend on the category of the call-out.

“Emergency responses are categorised in various categories which are determined on arrival at an incident by the responding incident commander and the levy charged is in respect of a category applied,” Bosman said.

He added that house fires, accidents, and other emergencies fall under category 1 and would not incur a charge by the municipality.

Bosman detailed the categories as follows:

  • Category 1 – No charge is levied for this category, which includes residential properties owned by a person and not a business or a trust,multi-vehicle accidents including persons trapped, any rescue including high angle swift water diving incidents, medical and trauma which is classed as a special service call.
  • Category 2 (Low Risk) – For this category, there is a basic levy raised for businesses and trusts. The levy is charged from time of vehicles arriving on scene until departure. The cost is calculated per 15 mins or part thereof.  On arrival at the incident the incident commander can call for further assistance depending on what specialized vehicle is required.
  • Category 3 (Moderate Risk) – This category is levied at storage facilities heavy-duty horse and trailers vehicles transporting goods as well as when we are dealing with a structure fire more than three stories. In these types of fires a lot more vehicles and personnel are required as breathing apparatus would definitely be used and we would conduct search and rescue throughout the premises to ascertain if any person has been overcome by smoke.
  • Category 4 (High Risk) – This category is levied dealing with high-risk incidents, chemical factories, paint factories, petrol chemical. Where we are required to use various types of foam to suppress hydro carbon and poly carbon fires and the risk of fighting this fire poses a greater threat to personnel.
  • Category 5 (High Risk) – High-risk category which includes the use of aircraft and ships.

The cost per category for vehicle call-outs is detailed below. The price listed for each category is per 15 minutes of utilisation or part thereof.

Vehicle Category 1 Category 2 Category 3 Category 4 Category 5
Trailer pump, portable pump, small power boat, motor car or light vehicle or trailer not exceeding 750kg No charge R67 R206 R351 R421
Light vehicle pump, rescue vehicle, water tanker, service vehicles and trailers not exceeding 750kg No charge R206 R633 R1,059 R1,274
Heavy-duty water tanker, breathing apparatus vehicle, foam tanker, rescue vehicle, and advanced mobile control unit No charge R282 R847 R1,416 R1,693
Medium/heavy duty pump and aerial appliance No charge R423 R1,274 R2,120 R2,558

Now read: SAA gets R3.5 billion from Development Bank of Southern Africa

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South Africa’s municipalities charge you if you call the fire department – How much you will pay