If fire group quits, insurance rises

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Insurance agents say rates could multiply

By Geoff Hamill


If you don’t like paying a $45 annual fee for fire protection on your property taxes, wait until you see your insurance bill next year. If the Washington County Fire Protection Association goes through with its plans to dissolve itself, insurance providers say many local property owners could pay dearly for that decision.

Insurance rates would take a hit that local companies have called “substantial,” and estimates have been made that rates could rise by 50 percent or more without a county fire department in place. Chuck Polin, president of Simms and Montgomery Insurance and Real Estate, said he expects customers currently served by the WCFPA to be hit hard when it comes to rate increases.
Polin explained the location of a piece of property determines its insurance rating, and that rating scale comes from a national group known as the Insurance Services Office, or ISO.
“All fire departments are rated by the Insurance Services Office, and they rate every fire department in the nation on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best and 10 being the worst,” Polin said. He added that property within the city limits of Springfield is rated a 6. For property outside the city limits but within five miles of a fire department and within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant, the rating remains a 6. When property is within that five-mile range but has no hydrant, it is rated a 9, and for all other properties outside the five-mile range with no hydrant, the rating is a 10. He added that the property’s distance from a fire department is measured by using the road miles between the two locations.
With the loss of county fire protection, Polin said it is possible that rates could go up as much as 50 percent.
“If you go from a class 6 to a class 10, you’re looking at at least a 50-percent increase,” he said. “It’s a major issue.”
Steve Wharton, vice president of McElroy, Wharton & Boldrick, Inc., gave a similar response to that of Polin. Wharton said he believes homeowners going from a protection class 6 to a protection class 10 could see premium increases of up to 50 percent.
“It is vital that all parties involved work together to reach an agreement so that the citizens of Washington County (who would be affected), don’t have to suffer the loss of trained fire protection,” Wharton said.  
As indicated in the letter from the WCFPA published in The Springfield Sun’s Nov. 24 issue, people living in the Mackville and Willisburg communities, as well as those in the city limits of Springfield will not be effected if the WCFPA does dissolve as planned.
Jeremy Hardin, agency manager of Washington County Farm Bureau, said if the ISO finds out there is no responding fire department in the area, it will change the fire protection rating, but he thinks it could take a while for that to happen.
“Until we see if everything’s going to shake out or not, it’s hard to say,” Hardin said. He indicated that based on rates figured for a recent customer, rates could go up about 10 to 15 percent for each point on the fire rating, but he said that would depend on deductibles and other factors of the policy.
The ISO issued a statement, but was vague on exactly how much time it could take to see the local fire ratings changed, and before insurance rates would reflect the new ratings.
“Determining the effect of a change in fire protection of this magnitude requires a detailed grading completed by an ISO Field Representative,” said Mike Waters, vice president of risk decision services at ISO.
While citizens will have to wait to see what will happen to the county’s fire protection, and then their insurance rates, county officials and the WCFPA are meeting to try to make progress. Washington County Judge-Executive John Settles said the two groups will sit down together Wednesday, Dec. 1 to begin discussing concerns.
“We have talked, and they (WCFPA) have agreed to meet,” Settles said.
Settles and the members of the Washington County Fiscal Court met with Bruce Roberts, division director of the Kentucky Fire Commission on Monday. Roberts listened to questions and helped address issues facing the court as it tries to prepare for whatever the future holds.
“We just need to educate ourselves on what happens if there is no fire department, and what are our responsibilities,” Settles said. “We need to get all the assistance we can get.”
Roberts addressed the court members and Settles, telling them the importance of having an established fire department.
“If I go start a brand new fire department in a community that has never had one, and they don’t have the first knowledge of being a firefighter, I’m taking this responsibility in my own hands of protecting the citizens of this county,” Roberts said. “It’s a tough job. It’s a big undertaking. Firefighting’s not an easy job, and if you don’t have a clue what you’re doing, you can get somebody killed in a minute.”
Settles said while the county has no plans to start its own department, it is important that he and the court members be prepared in the event no agreement can be reached between the county and the WCFPA.
“It’s not our desire to start a new fire department, but if we feel like that’s what we’re going to have to do, then from your opinion, what would we have to do,” Settles asked Roberts.
Roberts explained that starting a new fire department initially only requires a group of 12 firefighters and one person to serve as chief. He said each firefighter would have to have 150 hours of training within a two-year period, and from that point, an additional 20 hours of training per year would be required.
“I could bring in 12 brand new people who have never had a day’s lick on the fire department and start a new fire department,” Roberts added, but he stressed that he would not recommend that.
“I’ve been in fire service since 1972, in some way and some form. You just don’t start from scratch and expect that you’re going to get that kind of protection,” he continued. “I think if it (WCFPA) disbands, you’re going backwards. I really think you’re taking a big step backward. I think that puts a lot of weight on you all when it comes to fire protection. I wouldn’t want it on my shoulders.”
The members of the newly appointed committee seeking to resolve the differences between the county and WCFPA was scheduled to meet Wednesday, Dec. 1 at the Washington County Farm Bureau Office at 6 p.m.. The committee features members from the fiscal court and the WCFPA, as well as two at-large members.