July 18, 2003

Firefighters get reprieve on fee

Betty Lilyestrom

LEICESTER- Thanks to the quick response of area legislators to their complaints, Massachusetts call and volunteer firefighters won't have to pay a fee to get permits for emergency red lights for their personal vehicles.

As a result of complaints, the Registry of Motor Vehicles has offered a compromise that will exempt the firefighters from paying the recently instituted $100 biannual fee. The compromise will allow each firefighter a permit for one such light in each two-year period at no fee, and a no-fee two-year-renewal for a single vehicle.

The $100 fee will be charged for a two-year permit or renewal for a light for a second vehicle.

In addition, state Rep. John J. Binienda, D-Worcester, in concert with six other Central Massachusetts legislators, has filed a bill that would exempt call and volunteer firefighters from paying any fees for the permits for the flashing red lights that identify them as emergency workers and grant them unimpeded passage when responding to alarms.

"I find it appalling for the administration to tax these people when the only time their lights are on is when they are on their way to save other people's lives," Mr. Binienda said.

Other co-sponsors of the legislation are: Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre; Sen. Guy W. Glodis, D-Auburn; and Worcester Reps. John P. Fresolo, James B. Leary and Robert P. Spellane, and Sen. Harriette L. Chandler, all of whom are Democrats.

In response to a complaint from Mr. Brewer, Kimberly Hinden, state registrar of motor vehicles, announced an agreement exempting volunteer and call firefighters from the initial fee and subsequent renewals for single vehicles.

"Our agency was challenged to assist with the economic impact, by setting fees to offset services the Registry of Motor Vehicles provides," Ms. Hinden said in a letter to Mr. Brewer. "This was to include a fee for red-light permits. A two-year permit would have cost $100 for a two-year period."

She said the compromise exempting Massachusetts volunteer and call firefighters was reached after consultation with the state Executive Office of Public Safety.

Mr. Brewer said he contacted Ms. Hinden after receiving a complaint about the fee from Charlton Fire Chief Ralph Harris.

"I expressed my strong disappointment in this fee increase for the men and women throughout this state who volunteer their time to protect their fellow citizens," Mr. Brewer said.

Mr. Binienda said he had been contacted by Leicester Fire Chief Robert F. Wilson.

"I called him right after the first of July, when one of our firefighters was informed he couldn't renew his permit unless he paid for it," Chief Wilson said.

"In these fiscally difficult times, these fees are especially burdensome, considering these volunteer firefighters who save millions of lives a year may only earn about $200 a year for their services," Mr. Binienda said. "These call-volunteer firefighters ask for nothing, only the opportunity to serve, and then to see the administration slap this fee on them was incomprehensible to me."

Chief Wilson said the legislation filed by Mr. Binienda would ensure that the fee exemption will remain in effect through any changes in the registry staff or organization.

"The only thing left to do is get the emergency medical technicians included in the exemption," Chief Wilson said. "In towns where the emergency medical service is under the fire department, the EMTs are automatically covered. In towns where is it a separate agency, they either have to be specifically mentioned in the exemption, or given permission to get their permits through the fire department."