Insurance costs to rise if fire fee fails |

Insurance costs to rise if fire fee fails

If the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District fails in its effort to raise fees, officials expect to close two district fire stations. In turn, residents near those stations could see substantial increases in their home insurance costs.

Property owners in the district recently received mail-in ballots for the $1.3 million fire assessment, which would cost the owner of a single-family home $89 a year. If the initiative is shot down by voters, Consolidated Chief Tim Fike said the cash-strapped district will close two stations and lay off nine firefighters.

Closing the Alta Sierra and Ridge Road stations would push some houses beyond the response radius favored by most insurance companies. Response times to calls in some parts of Alta Sierra would double, said Darlene Bennett, secretary for the Consolidated board of directors.

When insurance agents research the risk of insuring a particular home, they usually call Bennett.

She punches the home’s address into her computer, and up pops the home’s distance from a station and the amount of time it would take firefighters to arrive.

This information is “extremely important” to insurers, said JoAnne Baker of the Farmers Insurance Group.

“If there’s not a fire department within five miles, the premium (climbs) quite a bit,” Baker said.

Baker, and other insurance experts, were unable to provide estimates of the potential increase because homeowner insurance rates depend on a variety of factors – the age and condition of the house, the amount of coverage desired, and whether someone owns a rottweiler, swimming pool, trampoline, or other insurance no-nos.

But the distance to a fire station and hydrant, as well as the overall health of the fire department, factors into most companies’ determinations of a house’s eligibility and rate.

Five or seven miles from a fire station, and 1,000 feet from a fire hydrant, are the industry’s magic numbers.

The wizard behind the magic numbers is the Insurance Services Office, a New Jersey based-company that scrutinizes the quality of fire coverage provided in communities across the nation.

An ISO investigator thoroughly investigates the department – counting nozzles, reviewing hose-testing records and evaluating overall department operation.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” Fike said.

ISO issues each fire department a rating – a score of one is good, 10 is bad. Insurers then use this information to calculate premiums.

Properties more than five miles away from a station are generally assigned a higher rating than the overall district, ISO spokesman Dave Dasgupta said.

In 2000, Consolidated’s rating improved from a five to a four and from a nine to an eight for outlying areas.

Coincidentally, an ISO survey to update the district’s rating is scheduled for the weeks following the Oct. 22 assessment ballot count, Fike said.

“If we get a bad score, (homeowner’s) insurance is going to go up,” Fike said. Fike emphasized he did not schedule the ISO evaluation to follow the balloting.

If the fee proposal is approved, Consolidated plans to beef up its operations in a variety of ways.

Instead of closing the Alta Sierra station, Consolidated would staff the site 24 hours a day instead of the current 12. The district would also provide 24-hour staffing for a fire station covering Banner Mountain, Red Dog Road, Cascade Shores and Idaho-Maryland Road.

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