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Report: Arizona homeowner charged $20K by fire department

PHOENIX -- A Valley couple is in shock after reportedly receiving a nearly $20,000 bill from Rural Metro Fire Department after their home burned to the ground.

According to the Huffington Post, Justin and Kasia Purcell received the bill about two weeks after the Aug. 12 fire destroyed their Surprise home near 163rd Avenue and Dixileta.

"I couldn't believe it," Justin Purcell told The Huffington Post. "We lost our home, we just had a baby and now we're going through this. It's crazy. We don't know how we are going to come up with the money."

Justin said they were charged because Rural Metro is a private fire department and its services are not covered by a fire district assistance tax he paid. That tax only covers volunteer fire services.

The Purcells' insurance company said it would not cover the bill.

"I was told by our insurance company that they don't cover fire departments in county areas," Justin Purcell said. "I asked our insurance [representative] what the typical city fire department charges them and he said he had never seen a bill for anything over five or six thousand dollars."

Rural Metro spokesman Colin Williams said the Purcells' bill was justified, as they did not pay a subscription fee that would have covered the $1,500 per fire truck and $150 per hour for each firefighter.

"Of course they knew they had an obligation/option to pay our annual subscription. ... They, along with others across Arizona, in areas we serve, elected to ... roll the dice that they would not have a fire -- they lost," he said. "We provided service to them and now they are mad. This is not new. We bill for unsubscribed fires all of the time. ... Why should these people ride the coat tails [SIC] of their neighbors who elect [to] have a fire service contract with us?"

However, the Purcells claim they had no idea a subscription existed.

"We would have paid it in a heartbeat," Kasia Purcell said. "We never received a letter from them."

Other neighbors told Fox 10 they had no idea the subscription existed.

Fox 10 also reported that the Surprise Fire Department was the first on the scene. Rural Metro showed up about 10 minutes later. Williams said the Purcells' bill includes costs for the Surprise firefighters.

Rural Metro has recently filed for bankruptcy and some residents questioned if that's the reason for the large bill. Williams denied that claim.

"I can categorically reject that as it being somebody's concern, however it's in no way a means for us trying to generate revenue," said Williams.

The cause of the fire has not been determined.

FOX 10 News | myfoxphoenix.com

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