News

Setting the record straight on fire insurance rate increases in Sooke

Sooke Fire Chief Steve Sorensen - File
Sooke Fire Chief Steve Sorensen
— image credit: File

The media has recently exploded with rumours of increased expenses for residents here in Sooke.

“Shortage of firefighters could double cost of Sooke home insurance” screams one Island headliner. “Fire insurance rates could be going up over shortage of volunteer firefighters,” shouts a national.

Let’s address the rumoured free-fall drop in Sooke’s residential grade.

First, the impact of this grade adjustment will not affect all dwellings in Sooke, as some recent news coverage suggests.

“The perception is that it applies to all of Sooke, and it’s not that. It only applies to eight kilometres out, and that starts at about the 5200 block of Sooke Road,” clarifies Milne. That’s from Cooper’s Cove to about the 17 Mile House. “Everyone else is within the eight kilometre radius of the main fire hall.”

Further, in a news release issued by the District of Sooke on January 9, 2014, the District will be “sending letters to all property owners that may be affected by this change in fire rating status.” If you haven’t heard from them, it probably doesn’t affect you. If you think you may have been overlooked, give them a call at (250) 642-1634.

Second, the grade shift is tentative and will not influence any insurance providers for a while.

The grade is a set using a Dwelling Protection Grade (DPG) formula, which comes from the Fire Underwriters Survey (FUS, fireunderwriters.ca).

There are five grades in the DPG, one being the highest (staffed, protected) and five being the lowest (unprotected). According to Sooke’s fire chief Steve Sorensen, Sooke falls under Grade 3 (volunteer, protected — 3A — and volunteer, semi-protected — 3B). The primary difference between and A and B is whether or not a dwelling is within 300 metres of a recognized fire hydrant.

A bird’s eye view of Sooke’s fire protection services includes the main fire hall on Otter Point, (Fire Station 1), the satellite station on Goodridge, (Fire Station 2), and a muster station (Sunriver). A fire station covers a maximum recognized road distance perimeter of 8km, and a satellite station extends that coverage. A muster station enhances response time.

The matter at hand — that which can affect the DPG for residences outside of the eight kilometre travel range of Fire Station 1— is the number of fire fighters available at Fire Station 2, the satellite station. According to correspondence from Michael King, a Public Fire Protection Specialist from FUS, “If the roster at Fire Station 2 cannot be maintained above the minimum requirements for fire insurance grading recognition, Fire Station 2 will no longer have a recognized response level and a Dwelling Protection Grade 5 (unprotected) would apply.”

The main minimum requirement stipulated by FUS is the number of available fire fighters. “An absolute minimum roster strength of 10 members is required.”

As explained in the previously mentioned news release, this grade change will not happen right away: “Fire Underwriters Survey has given the District of Sooke a one year grace period to come up with a long term solution to the staffing problem.”

Keep in mind that not all insurers use the FUS grading system. As Fire Chief Steve Sorensen explains it, once the base insurance rate is set, “most insurance companies will give you a discount based on the level of protection you had. … That varies by insurance company,” he continued.

Eventually, if the number of qualified volunteers does not hit the minimum of 10 within a year and depending on your insurance provider, the value and condition of your home, and where you are geographically located in Sooke, your insurance cost might rise. Somewhat.

Third, the increase will not be as drastic as suggested.

The increase that Sorensen provided in other reports was hypothetical, he said, looking at one house (his) going from a protected (3A) to an unprotected (5). It also assumed a certain home value and a specific insurance provider.

The story seems to have gotten completely out of hand.

“I was the guy who did the final authorization,” added mayor Milne. “The buck stops with me. … If I created any unnecessary concern amongst citizens, I apologize for that.”

Hopefully, with this clarification from Milne, Sorensen and FUS, some of that fog has lifted.

For a full forecast of sun, what is really needed are some new volunteers.

“Our hope through all of this is that we can pick up a small group of people that might be available,” said Sorensen. “If we can pick up a small contingent more, then we can show Fire Underwriter, ‘Look, we now have four people who will show up day time, night time, any time.’ “

Since the initial FUS feedback, three new recruits have already signed up. “We’ve filled the number void,” said Sorenson, “We just now have to try and find some daytime people. I would like to have 15 guys, not 11.” His ultimate objective is to be able to set off a daytime pager on the rare occasion that there is a significant event, and have four people from Fire Station 2 and six people from Fire Station 1 respond. With 10 fire fighters, Sorensen speculates, “we can pretty well manage most things.”

There are a number of measurable benefits that can be derived from getting involved in this particular line of work. According to both Milne and Sorensen, volunteers get 66 hours of department-funded training. Combined with the calls, volunteers are actively engaged for at least 100 hours a year.

“There’s a lot of reasons that people volunteer,” begins Sorensen. “They want to be part of the community, they may be new to the community, and it’s a good way to meet new people. It’s exciting. So if you’re kind of an adrenaline junkie there’s that aspect. We are having a lot of people joining now who are looking for a career in the fire fighting service, and if they can get some volunteer time, it looks really good on their resume. So it’s a stepping stone to a job.”

Sorensen suggested the biggest motivator was that “you’re part of a very close-knit group that’s very supportive of each other. It’s almost as if you’re building another family.”

The training is an incentive. Volunteers receive skills training in fire and rescue procedures, including First Aid and CPR.  There’s also the possibility of enhancing your driver’s license to a professional driver status with air brake endorsement.

The rewards are tremendous too. There are perks associated with becoming a part of the fire fighting community, and include a number of social events and activities that extend to spouses and children. Life insurance is also provided.

The biggest reward, finds Sorensen, comes from the biggest gift one can give. “It is pretty awesome when someone walks into the fire hall to say thank you for saving their life.”

For information on becoming a volunteer fire fighter, you can visit the Sooke.ca website. Or, call the district, at (250) 642-1634.

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