‘Crash’ victim burnt by bill for fire-truck

Dr Geoff Tribe was staggered when he received a R1 139.50 bill from the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) after he wrote off his Toyota RAV4 on the Vanwyksdorp-Ladismith gravel road, on March 16, last year.

The SUV rolled twice, and, after hitting a pole, it landed on its wheels, said the Pinelands resident who tried for months to find out why he was billed for the use of a Ladismith fire-truck he never requested.

“My insurance company arranged for the vehicle to be removed and we told them we didn’t need any assistance. Apart from calling a friend in Vanwyksdorp to collect us we made no other calls.

“Passers-by informed the police who arrived to take our statements and inspect the accident scene. Later an ambulance arrived and though no one was seriously injured, they insisted that one passenger be taken to the Ladismith hospital for observation. Our friend also arranged for two men to stay with the RAV4 until the tow truck arrived. As we were about to leave, the fire-truck turned up – obviously having heard the radio traffic. It was manifestly apparent that the service was not required,” Dr Tribe said.

“The police were very professional and if it was necessary they would have called the fire-truck. The car came to rest in sand and there was no danger of fire, “ Dr Tribe said.

When Dr Tribe received the bill dated April 17 he wrote to the GRDM several times asking them to explain why he had to “be held liable for a fire-truck that provided no service, was not required and not requested”.

When Dr Tribe couldn’t get a satisfactory reply from the GRDM, except for telling him that the tender responded to a call from a passer-by and he had to pay R150 if he wanted to query the bill, he asked me if I could get clarity on the matter when he contacted me in October. That proved harder than leading a camel through the eye of a needle.

Chantal Edwards-Klose, spokesperson for the George municipality, sent me the contact details of the relevant people, including the GRDM’s “senior c ommunicator” Herman Pieters, who didn’t communicate too well. In fact, he ignored several messages, as did Freddy Thaver of the fire department, GRDM’s municipal manager, Monde Stratu, and Clive Africa, manager of community services.

After several reminders, Rolene Nel, of the Kannaland revenue department, wrote on November 18, that the GRDM’s municipal manager deals with the media. But the email to Mr Stratu went into a black hole.

However, the most unhelpful person was Johan Brand, the George Fire Station officer, who after ignoring my messages, told me on January 30, that he gave “all the relevant info of this incident to my finance department as requested by them on 25 October 2019”.

Maybe, but he didn’t give it to me. “At the time of your mail to me on 12 December 2019 I was already on leave and if you need any more info, please contact my PIO (public information officer),” but he didn’t give me his name.

“If you want the info it’s all available in the incident report but you need to request it from our legal department and pay the applicable fee like everybody else, Mr Joss.”

But the legal department’s Monique Tiraz ignored my message until I sent her a prompt.

Finally, Mr Pieters responded on Monday February 24, and he confirmed that the incident was reported to their call centre and then given to the Ladismith (GRDM) fire crew.

“It is not necessary for the person involved in the accident to call for assistance, anyone can call the Fire and Rescue Services for assistance. However, when an incident is reported the service must respond to ensure scene safety. Although the vehicle posed no threat the GRDM crew disconnected the battery in case it caused a fire in the vehicle.

“They found the vehicle that overturned (rolled and landed on its wheels) and was standing on the side of the road. Although the vehicle didn’t pose any threat to other traffic, when it overturned it may have dislodged the battery which could have caused a fire in the vehicle. The fire may have spread to the surrounding veld and Dr Tribe would have been responsible for any damage.
Dr Tribe has to pay the bill as it was his vehicle. The act says a fire service can perform any action in the interest of public safety and then charge the responsible person for services rendered at an incident,” Mr Pieters said,

Ms Edwards-Klose said that in George private vehicle crashes are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

“In most instances, this is covered by the vehicle owner’s insurance. The fire brigade is always called to respond as they may have to assist with Jaws of Life, for example,” she said.

Richard Bosman, executive director for safety and security, said the City of Cape Town’s tariff of charges is complicated and consists of 11 pages for various categories of fire vehicles.

The incident Dr Tribe was involved in would be classified as category 1 and the service is free to all private citizens, provided the “property” is not registered to a business or trust.

The tariffs are advertised each year for public comment, Mr Bosman said.