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Fire department charging homeowners who have used cellulose insulation and then had their house catch on fire

canada_deck | Posted in General Questions on

This sounds pretty wild.  Have any other jurisdictions started doing this?

To be clear, the fire department is not saying that the insulation is the cause of the fire.  They are just saying that it’s a ton of extra work to be sure the fire is out in these cases and they are billing the homeowners for that work.

“The Edmonton fire department sent a man a nearly $13,000 bill after they responded to a fire that destroyed his home last fall.

In October, Woytek Stachowski’s home in the city’s south east was engulfed in flames, which resulted in extensive damage. He was in the process of submitting his insurance claim when he received a surprising invoice from Edmonton Fire Rescue Services about a month after the fire.

The invoice was for almost $13,000 and included a list of firefighting items, such as $2,200 for a vacuum truck, $285 for work lights, and extension cords and even $19 for the carbon tax.

“I said maybe by mistake this came to me,” he told CTV Edmonton. “It’s not insurance paying, they ask me to pay.”

Edmonton Fire Rescue Services said the bill was because the insulation Stachowski used in his house tends to smolder for hours and it required extra work to put out the fire.

“The cost on this invoice was for cellulose insulation removal, which is necessary to mitigate risk,” said a spokesperson from Edmonton Fire Rescue Services.


Fire officials also said that in order to declare the fire put out, they had to hire a contractor to pull down the insulation. Edmonton Fire Rescue Services deals with similar insulation several times a month and said it can lead to them sending invoices ranging from $11,000 to $13,000.”

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  1. Debra_Ann | | #1

    Wow! I hadn't heard anything about that. But a quick internet search confirms that cellulose insulation does indeed involve a great deal more time and effort when fighting fires. In addition, cellulose in the attics becomes extremely heavy when saturated with water from fire-fighting, and there's a major risk of ceilings collapsing on the fire fighters.

  2. Expert Member
    Peter Yost | | #2

    Hi Canada Deck (be great to have a real name for the GBA Q&A community) -

    Never heard of this. I guess it means that each fire department needs to break down all the materials that have variable fire-fighting costs to fairly apportion their customer base...

    I have a relative that had an electric short in an attic insulated with cellulose. A resulting very confined smoldering fire took 4 attempts to completely put it out. Just an anecdote.

    And now that I have conveyed that anecdote, I am hoping that neither the cellulose and fiberglass folks jump all over it...


  3. lance_p | | #3

    So why do we pay for insurance and property tax? Our taxes should cover the cost of fire-fighting and insurance should cover the cost of damage to our homes in case of fire. That's ludicrous!

    1. joshdurston | | #6

      I agree completely

  4. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #4

    I would think insurance would cover something like this but you’d have to check with your agent. It might be no one thought to submit a claim, or maybe the insurance people hadn’t seen this before and weren’t sure what to do. If an insurance claim was made and they denied it that would be interesting to know.

    It’s not cellulose is a new insulating material that has no history. It’s been used in attics for decades.


  5. joshdurston | | #5

    I think fines typically can't be covered by insurance. But I don't think you should be fined for building a code compliant house. Bearing costs is different than being fined and ethically should be carried by the insurance. I sure hope they aren't "fining" people for having cellulose.

    I'm a local (Rural Ontario) volunteer firefighter, and it's true, we often have to get a vacuum truck to suck out the insulation, but it's not just cellose, we get any sort of blown in insulation removed if there is a chance of smouldering. In the grand scheme of things the additional cost of removal is nothing compared to the rest of the damage.

    I have no idea if someone gets sent a bill though. I would think it would be treated similar to the fast response flood restoration companies, sucking insulation out is the first step to rebuilding. Similar to pumping water out of a basement.

    1. Expert Member
      BILL WICHERS | | #7

      I don’t think the fire department bill would be considered a “fine”. I think the charge was for extra stuff they had to do, and extra equipment they had to use. A fine would imply something wasn’t done correctly, but if you got your green sticker at signoff time, I don’t see how they could fine you for anything.

      Interesting tidbit: fines many times can be written off on taxes. It happens all the time commercially. Clever accountants.


  6. walta100 | | #8

    Fire departments like everyone else are all looking for easy money.

    Many have started charging for each ambulance run. They call it a “soft bill” it is submitted to your health insurance. If the insurance pay it is bonus for the department and if not the department drops the bill and makes no effort to collect from the individual. I see this bill as the next logical extension of the same idea.


    1. lance_p | | #9

      That’s disgusting, and passes those fees onto other people’s insurance bills through increased premiums.

      Whatever happened to government services operating “not for profit” ?

  7. jackofalltrades777 | | #10

    While fire departments are "not for profit" they do have huge expenses and huge budgets. Equipment, fire fighter salaries, etc. Fighting fires is not cheap and free.

    1. lance_p | | #11

      I certainly appreciate the costs involved with fighting fires. A good friend of mine is a full-time firefighter, as is an old friend from high school. Both are well paid, and both are expected to do some of the riskiest public service. Safety gear, equipment, facilities, trucks, training, it all costs money.

      My displeasure in hearing about these supplemental charges lies in how high our property taxes have become, and the perception that we are not getting any more for our money than we were before. In fact, stories like this make it seem as though we're getting less.

      Cellulose insulation isn't a new thing, it's been around for decades. Why are these charges being collected at the customer's expense where they weren't before?

      1. Expert Member
        MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #12


        Fire departments can levy additional charges all they want, but I'd bet that if the owner challenged it in court they would have a good chance of winning. I'm the president of our local fire department. The hardly makes me an expert, but I can't find anything in our enabling legislation that allows us to arbitrarily levy additional charges when we are already publicly funded. Some fires are more difficult to fight than others for all sorts of reasons. There simply isn't some sliding scale of cost we can recover.

        1. Expert Member
          BILL WICHERS | | #13

          True, but the owner would have to challenge them in court. Many people won’t bother, which is probably what thosevfire departments doing this are counting on. There is also the fact that many people will just pay a bill like this “because it’s official” and they don’t know any better.

          I’ve been on projects before where I let things slide with the inspector instead of challenging it because it wasn’t worth the hassle.


          1. Expert Member
            MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #14


            Very true, but if I was a fire department I'd be pretty wary of levying a bunch of charges that might get reversed leaving me open to a large liability.

            if I had received the charge I'd have told them to go pound sand. Then the onus would be on them to justify it.

            Funny this happened in Alberta, which is generally a pretty libertarian place.

        2. lance_p | | #15

          Thanks for your thoughts, Malcolm! I'll keep this knowledge under my hat and hopefully never be in a position where I have to try it out!

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