Fire services hitting homeowners’ wallets

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Fire services hitting homeowners’ wallets

Public Protection Classification

1 being the best; 10 being the worst

Hamilton: 2

Fairfield: 3

Middletown: 3

Madison Twp.: 6/9*

West Chester Twp.: 3

Monroe: 3

Trenton: 4

Ross Twp.: 4/8B*

Fairfield Twp.: 4

Liberty Twp.: 4

Franklin: 4

Lebanon: 4

Oxford: 5

Source: Fire officials

*Ratings of 8B and 9 are for structures beyond 1,000 feet from a hydrant

How Public Protection Classifications are weighed

•Fire department (50 percent): adequacy of equipment, sufficient staffing, evaluation of training, existence of automatic aid, and geographic distribution of fire companies

•Water supply (40 percent): condition and maintenance of hydrants, existence of alternative sources, and a careful evaluation of the amount of available water — in volume and pressure — compared with the amount needed to suppress fires

•Emergency communications (10 percent): 911 telephone systems, adequacy of telephone lines, operator supervision and staffing, and the dispatching hardware and software systems

Source: Insurance Services Office

The quality of local fire departments, based on national standards, can drive up insurance rates for homeowners and area businesses.

In rural townships such as Wayne and Madison, homeowners can pay more than double the insurance premiums of residents in Hamilton and Middletown, where the fire suppression ratings are within the top 5 percent of the nation, according to officials.

Most insurance carriers when determining premiums for a property, subscribe to receive the national Insurance Services Office’s Public Protection Classification (PPC) given to fire departments — based heavily on fire personnel and equipment; water supply and emergency communications.

“The ISO rating makes a substantial difference for the customer,” said Rick Ingram, CEO of Ingram Insurance Agency in Hamilton. “How far each home is from a fire hydrant or fire station.”

The rating schedule is on a scale of 1 to 10 — with a No. 1 rating indicating an exemplary fire suppression program, found in less than 0.2 percent of the nation’s departments.

Ingram said a homeowner in portions of Ross Twp. — with a Class 8 rating — will pay about 18 percent more than a homeowner in Hamilton, where the fire department has maintained a level 2 rating for 14 years. That rate for a home in rural Wayne Twp. exceeds 75 percent more than a premium cost in Hamilton.

Ohio ranks sixth lowest in the nation for homeowners insurance, with annual expenditures of $614 in 2010, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners in December of last year.

“Lower insurance ratings should incentivize people to locate to your community,” said Hamilton Deputy Chief Terry Klinzing.

Ingram said insurance premiums vary considerably by companies, which also incorporate the age of the home, person’s credit score and claims history.

Bill Brunner, who’s lived on Cotton Run Road in Wayne Twp. for 10 years, said he knows there’s more risk living in an isolated area with only a volunteer fire department and no fire hydrants. His home is about three miles from the township fire station.

“I’d rather live here, pay more for the insurance and take the chances and be more careful,” Brunner said.

Brunner said his family takes extra precautions to avoid a fire, such as having additional fire extinguishers and double checking to ensure the fireplace is always closed up and put out.

“I know if a fire started we’d lose everything,” Brunner said.

Despite the high risks of insuring homes in rural communities, insurance agent Steve Raszka of Insurance Associates in Middletown said independent companies are better able to partner with insurance carriers willing to write high risk insurance coverage.

“From an insurance company perspective, they’d rather insure someone whose fire damages would be out quick,” Raszka said. “The beauty of being independent, we still have companies that write for high risk.”

The Public Protection Classification program from ISO provides an objective, countrywide standard that helps fire departments in planning and budgeting for facilities, equipment and training, according to Robert Cobb, national director of Community Hazard Mitigation at ISO.

Cobb said a community’s investment in fire mitigation is a proven and reliable predictor of future fire losses. On average, per $1,000 of insured property, communities in the worst classification had fire losses more than twice as high as communities in the best classification.

“And by securing lower fire insurance premiums for communities with better public protection, the PPC program provides incentives and rewards for communities that choose to improve their firefighting services,” Cobb said.

Raszka said it’s beneficial for an insurance company to utilize the ISO ratings because it’s very time- and resource-consuming to individually inspect each property, especially commercial properties.

“The downfall is ISO doesn’t go out annually to re-inspect and the ratings may be outdated,” Raszka said, unless a re-inspection is requested. “If that’s a way we can get the price down for them, we will. If there have been improvements made and we know the rates should be lower.”

In Ross Twp., the fire department receives an ISO split rating of 4/8B — meaning properties of the township within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant have a level 4 rating, but those beyond 1,000 feet fall into an 8B rating.

Fire Chief Steve Miller said an 8B rating means the community provides superior fire-protection services and fire alarm facilities but lacks the water supply required for a PPC of Class 8 or better. He said tankers are used to deliver water to the scene of a fire.

“Fire departments in Fairfield and Liberty Twp. every 500 feet have hydrants; out here we’re lucky to find a hydrant,” Miller said.

Prior to an automatic aid agreement with the City of Hamilton, portions of Ross Twp. near Smith Road and Sky Meadow Drive — more than five miles from a fire house — received the worst rating, a Class 10. It has since improved to 8B.

“(Those residents) were paying very high insurance,” Miller said. “We were able to prove that the department could, on its own or with the help of automatic aid fire departments, deliver an uninterrupted fire flow of 200 gallons per minute for 20 minutes.”

In urban areas such as Middletown and Hamilton, fire departments have a large water supply to draw from with hydrants typically every 100 feet, said Chief Steven Botts of Middletown Fire.

“The City of Middletown is an urban community with established infrastructure, but it’s aging,” Botts said. “We have a very good hydrant system and means to move water; hydrants are uniformly distributed with good volume and pressure.”

In Middletown, the fire department has maintained a Class 3 rating since 2006. Evaluations by ISO are usually every 10 years, unless significant improvements have been made and a re-inspection is requested.

Botts said the Middletown rating could be impacted based on declining minimum staffing levels in recent years — from 21 to 19, and most recently to 16.

“The reason a fire department exists is to save lives and protect property,” Botts said. “Insurance rates can’t be more important than people’s lives.”

The national insurance company State Farm moved away from using ISO ratings to determine premiums in 2000, said spokeswoman Angie Rinock. The company has since completed a state-by-state roll out of an internal system.

“Because we’re so large we can pull from our own claims database to predict fire losses to a home, but also all losses to a homeowner,” Rinock said, adding 70 percent of homeowners’ claims are not fire-related.

Adding to that statistic, the occurrence of serious fires across the nation has been declining, according to Donald Bennett, fire chief in Fairfield, whose department has maintained a Class 3 rating for nearly 20 years — an improvement by two spots from the mid-1980s.

“Our business is changing,” Bennett said, with 84 percent of runs being for emergency medical services.

Bennett said between 1984 and 1994, the number of fire and EMS calls jumped 500 percent — from 1,000 runs a year to about 6,000.

“In that 10 years we went from paid on-call volunteers to on-duty staff 24 hours a day,” Bennett said.

Phil Morrical of Liberty Twp. said he pays more attention to ISO ratings than the average resident because of being a realtor and former fire marshal. He said the State Farm rating system is based in part by the amount of property loss within ZIP codes, which can be problematic when a geographical area spans several communities and fire departments.

“In the 45011 ZIP where I live in Liberty Twp. and work in downtown Hamilton, there are different fire departments and ratings,” Morrical said. “It concerns me how Hamilton’s rating could be impacted with closure of stations.”

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