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ASK YOUR GOVERNMENT: Who pays for fire calls?

Each week, Herald reporter Brandi Jewett answers your questions about local government, laws and other local topics.

Q. A question in last week's column about ambulance fees had me wondering: When the fire department responds to a fire, is there a charge for the service? And when someone calls in a medical emergency, can they just ask for transport without having a big group of law enforcement, firefighters and ambulance drivers show up and stand in their living room?

A. Grand Forks city staff members say a visit from your neighborhood firefighters shouldn't have you opening your wallet.

When the Grand Forks Fire Department responds to a call for service there are no charges for the initial emergency response, according to city spokesman Kevin Dean.

Fire Department costs are covered by property taxes collected by the city.

In cases where services are needed for extended periods beyond the emergency phase, the department has worked with insurance companies to cover those costs but would rather have contractors in the private sector provide any necessary services, according to Dean.

The exception would be where the abatement or cleanup of hazardous materials is involved, which means the responsible parties can be billed for the cost of removal and cleanup.

As far as having a small army of emergency responders in your living room goes, it shouldn't be a problem in the future.

Dean says medical calls involving transport only would not necessitate a response from the fire department. Also, a recent change in operating procedures removed those calls from the fire department's normal response anyway.

Medical emergencies that require transport would be responded to with the city's normal tiered response by medical, fire and law enforcement.

Which public safety entities respond to the call is dependent on the information given to the dispatcher when 911 is dialed.

Snow removal woes

Q. Who is responsible for clearing sidewalks in front of homes and businesses in Grand Forks? I walk everywhere and find myself climbing over snowbanks people haven't cleared from sidewalks. I believe it says property owners are responsible for their sidewalks in the city code, but I've had some tell me it's a city sidewalk so it's the city's responsibility. Can you set the record straight? If property owners are responsible then who is supposed to enforce the law?

A. Those who are telling you clearing sidewalks is not their problem may have to put their money where their mouth is.

According to the Grand Forks City Code -- article 16-0301 for those that want to read it for themselves -- the owner or occupant of any building, grounds or premises within the city limits shall keep the sidewalks and approach walks adjacent to the property free from snow and ice.

The code also says the street superintendent can remove snow and ice from the sidewalks and approach walks whose owner or occupants refuse or fail to remove snow and ice within 24 hours after it has fallen. The catch is it's on the owners' or occupants' dime at $1 per foot.

For example, if a property has 80 feet of sidewalk to clear, you're looking at an $80 bill.

Dean says the city doesn't have the staff to go looking for problem areas, but will respond to complaints about properties.

The easiest way to let the city know about snow that has not been cleared at a residence or business is to dial 311 and report the location.

And property owners, don't forget about keeping fire hydrants and emergency exits cleared of snow as well.

The time it takes for firefighters to dig out a hydrant that's buried in snow could mean the difference between bringing a fire under control or a much larger tragedy, Dean said.

Have questions? Call Jewett at (701) 780-1108 or (800) 477-6572 extension 1108, email, follow her on Twitter at @GFCityBeat or see her blog at