Tulsa city council committee ok's forgiving Airgas' $149,000 firefighting bill

Tuesday, September 30th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A company that got a $149,000 bill from the city of Tulsa probably won't have to pay. The Tulsa City Council plans to forgive the fee charged to Airgas - after a fire that took three days to extinguish.

News on 6 reporter Emory Bryan says when the fire started at Airgas - the Tulsa Fire Department sent 20 trucks and more than a hundred people. After the fire was out - the department sent a bill - which Airgas won't have to pay.

It was a fast moving and dangerous fire - moving through a plant that packages flammable compressed gas. It's a hazardous material that required special precautions. The response - just from the fire department - cost the city $149,000.

Because of a new city policy, the cost was to be passed on to Airgas - but the company appealed, and the city council plans to cancel the bill. A council committee decided the city shouldn't start billing until October 1st.

Councilor Bill Christensen thinks billing anyone before now is unfair because many companies didn't know about it. Councilor Art Justis agreed, pointing out the city advertised it in a newspaper with only a couple of hundred subscribers. Councilors Medlock and Neal agreed Airgas shouldn't have to pay. The president of Airgas, Mike Duvall, thanked the council for the consideration - and agreed to help the city advertise the change.

Here's how the original bill was figured. The city charges $900 an hour for each fire truck. It took 20 trucks and 165 hours of work, totaling $149,000. The Airgas fire happened just after the new billing policy took effect - but the council plans to delay the policy until October 1st - the change would eliminate the charge for Airgas - and six other companies that needed help from haz-mat in the last two months.

The bills for the other companies total $27,000 - the city won't collect anything on that - but what's amounted to a grace period is over as of Wednesday. By paying a yearly fee - companies can avoid the per-hour charges altogether.