March 11, 2015

Erin’s aging water tankers bump fire insurance costs

As published in The Erin Advocate

Shopping for insurance is already an annoying ordeal. Discovering that you have to pay extra because your fire department’s tanker trucks are more than 20 years old makes it very annoying.

It’s a confusing business, since companies may offer highly competitive rates for some types of coverage while charging more for others. So-called “quick” quotes over the phone can turn into hour-long inquisitions about your house and driving habits. I gave up on two quotes from call centres when they wouldn’t call me back later.

My broker (who actually answers the phone) found me a deal with a new company that was going to save me many hundreds of dollars. But when I reviewed the details, it was based on having fire hydrant protection. I told her that I live in a rural area with no hydrants, but that I have the protection of tanker shuttle service.

Firefighters can set up a water reservoir at my house in the event of a fire, with two tanker trucks taking turns filling it up. The insurance industry considers this the equivalent of a hydrant for fighting a fire.

My broker tried to confirm that the Town of Erin provides this service, but found nothing. A phone call to the Town revealed the bad news: last year, Erin lost its Superior Tanker Shuttle Accreditation because two of the trucks are more than 20 years old. The trucks are working fine and providing the protection, but the service no longer qualifies residents for a better insurance rate.

“We are getting calls about this every week,” said Fire Chief Dan Callaghan. “Many residents have a 15% increase.”

This issue does not affect urban residents with hydrants. It applies to rural residents who live less than 8 km from a fire hall, by road. Those further away would not normally qualify for the insurance discount in any case, but check your policy, since company standards vary.

For “superior” accreditation, the one that counts for insurance, Erin Fire must demonstrate to Fire Underwriters Survey that they have the training and two qualified trucks to shuttle water to a test site. They must pump at least 950 litres of water per minute continuously for two hours, filling tankers from hydrants, ponds or the seven underground fire reservoirs in the area.

Erin has three tankers, with model years 1990, 1994 and 2009. In the past there was no fixed cut-off date, but council learned in 2013 that tankers over 20 could no longer be used for the test. In 2014, Erin’s accreditation slipped to “standard” when the second tanker passed the limit. An extension of the cut-off was possible if the Town committed to buying a tanker within an agreed time frame.

A new tanker would cost at least $250,000, but it is only one of the budget priorities that have been delayed. The department is still hoping to replace a 1986 pumper-rescue truck, which would cost twice as much as a tanker.

“Where it is on the list, council will have to decide, but they are determined not to keep passing the buck forward,” said Mayor Al Alls. Each department head has been asked to look at what can be cut in their budget and the current operational review may make additional recommendations about priorities.

Councillor John Brennan said the tanker purchase must be “weighed in conjunction with other pressing needs”. He said accreditation was a factor in 2014 budget discussions.

“Council did not make it such a priority as to be fully addressed in that budget for a variety of reasons and I'm not sure the short time frame of the impending loss of accreditation was fully understood.”