Every time somebody calls the Batavia Fire Department to help lift someone who has fallen, the fire department sends a fire engine and three firefighters. It did that at least 153 times in 2013 to people living in single-family houses and apartments.
Each time, the resident paid no fee for the help getting back into their bed or chair.
That will continue, even if firefighters are called to the same address several times a year, the city council decided Tuesday.
"Batavia is a town that does care about its people. ... I would be opposed to charging," Alderman Michael O'Brien said, noting that Medicare doesn't pay for "lift assists."
"I think we go to a lot of lift assists, but it is also part of what we do as a fire department. Very few people are repeats," Fire Chief Randy Deicke told the committees.
Two aldermen had asked for a report on the number of times the department was called to lift people, and what type of housing they lived in.
Deicke reported that 66 calls were to the assisted- and independent-living apartments at The Holmstad, a retirement community. The rest were to the Heritage Woods assisted-living center, the Riverain senior apartment building, and to individual dwellings. Three of the latter called five to nine times that year, Deicke said.
Nursing homes rarely call for lift assistance because they usually have trained staff members available all day who can do lifts, Deicke said. But the assisted-living centers may not have health care workers available at all hours, he said.
And the Holmstad's independent- and assisted-living staff members do not do such lifts at all, citing the liability of injuring the person or a worker, according to Deicke.
It was that refusal to lift that prompted Alderman Lisa Clark to ask for the report. She said she was astounded to learn of the policy.
At first she thought the community, which is run by a religious organization, didn't pay property taxes and so was getting a service without paying anything. But The Holmstad does pay property taxes, which she said helped change her mind.
As for cost, Deicke estimated a call could cost $200 in labor and diesel fuel. But the firefighters are paid regardless. Lift assists are nonemergencies; if an emergency comes up, the fire department responds first to that, and if it doesn't have a secondary crew available, the fallen person has to wait, Deicke said.
"We are not talking about people who are injured," he said, estimating that fewer than 10 percent of the calls end with the person taken to a hospital.
Deicke said charging a fee for repeated calls might spur some residents, or their families, to consider obtaining assistance for themselves, or changing their living situation. The Aurora Township fire district charges $150 for every call; Montgomery charges $35, he said. Lombard charges $50 for every call after the fourth.