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Back You are here: Home News Local and State News Local County Fire Districts Rating Improves; Insurance Savings For Homeowners

County Fire Districts Rating Improves; Insurance Savings For Homeowners

In March the county received an improved insurance rating that can lead to savings for property owners.

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

NEW HANOVER CTY - The New Hanover County Fire Districts were recently inspected by the State Department of Insurance. In March the county received an improved rating that can lead to insurance savings for property owners.
County Fire Services Chief Donnie Hall explained to the Board of Commissioners June 4, "I'm sure some of the Board members will recall back in October of 2010, the county consolidated and took over responsibility of providing fire emergency services to the unincorporated areas of the county. At that point there were individual insurance districts around the county from the previous volunteer departments that had been providing that service for many years. We received direction from the board to turn New Hanover County into two insurance districts" covering the northern and southern sections of the county.
Hall explained, "In November the North Carolina Department of Insurance came down and inspected our districts. We received results of those insurance inspections in March of 2012. Chairman Ted Davis presented at a press conference those results to the public." Those new rates will be effective July 1.
Hall explained, "The rating categories. This is the area that is real important to us in the fire service of how we work to gain credit to reduce the insurance rates in our fire districts."
He explained, "Ten percent of what we receive in credit comes from how we handle and receive a 911 call. I'll have to give credit to Emergency Management Director Warren Lee and his 911 manager Debora Cottle, who spent hours working very hard to make sure all of our stuff was programmed appropriately for dispatch."
He said, "The fire department section, which includes 50% of the final grade and water supply. The results were, that we were able, which is one of the main objectives that we pushed forward with the consolidation, is that we wanted a consistent insurance rate throughout all of the areas of the fire service district. We were successful to an extent with that. We were able and will be able July 1, to offer a protection class 4 in the southern portion of New Hanover County.
Hall said, "From Snow's Cut Bridge all the way up to the City limits of Wilmington, every property in that area will be able to receive a class 4 rating."
Hall explained, "Currently today, and it's been this way for many years now, those areas had a class 5/9 rating."
Hall said the 5/9 rating had a lot to do with distance from a fire hydrant. He said, "We used a method with fire hydrants. If you're within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant you're eligible for a class five. If you're more than 1,000 feet, it was a nine. Effective July 1, they will all be a class four. The ones that were a class five will become a four. Now the people that have been at a nine... will become a class four. Those people should receive a tremendous amount of savings on their homeowners insurance."
Hall said it's hard to tell how much money can be saved on insurance due to numerous variables involved in various types of policies.
He said after speaking with some in the insurance industry, the savings on a two or three hundred thousand dollar home could equate to $900.00 a year.
For the northern fire district, the class has been 5/9 or class 6. Hall said the new rating will be a 4/9e. Many in that district will fall within the class four area. The protection class 4 applies to properties within 5 road miles of a fire station with a fire flow of 3,500 gallons per minute or less. The 9E applies to properties beyond 5 road miles but less than 6 road miles of a fire station. Properties beyond 6 road miles of a fire station would be considered unprotected.
Hall said an area off Sidbury Road is beyond the six-mile mark and will be considered unprotected. He said, "That does not mean the properties in that area do not receive fire protection or that fire services will not respond in that area if an incident happens. It just means by the way the general statutes allow us to provide coverage in those areas for insurance purposes, they cannot receive a benefit. They would be considered an unprotected classification."
Hall explained improvements are still needed saying, "Basically, we just got in the category for a class four. There's really not a lot of room or margin for error to lose credit or we could stand to regress back to a class 5."
Hall said, "One of the things we clearly thought when we consolidated was that we would be able to reduce the numbers of apparatus we had in the fire district. I think we were quite surprised when the results showed we really need 15 engine companies available to respond in the unincorporated areas of the county."
He explained, "We do have fifteen. We got credit. But the idea of reducing some of our inventory would actually hurt our overall insurance rates. We wanted to reduce and this year we did sell... two of our fire trucks" bringing in around $90,000. He said, "We did reduce some, but as far as reducing the number of engine companies, we don't feel comfortable doing any more."
Hall said State Department of Insurance officials, "Showed an additional need of seven locations" saying, "The way the insurance rating works is, they go from your station location and they measure a mile and a half radius around that and total the road miles."
Hall said, "If they can apply that same number of road miles anywhere that is outside of a mile and a half, then in their opinion there needs to be another fire station. With the eight stations we have, to get to the 15 engine companies, they say that we would need seven additional locations."
Hall explained, "I will tell you upfront these summaries and information we are providing would be if we were desiring to become a class 1 fire department. We are a class 4 department right now."
He said, "These needs and improvements, if we enacted every one of the improvements and moved forward, these would be the things we would need to do to actually get to a class 1 fire insurance district."
Hall explained credit was lost during the inspection based on distribution and ladder response. There is a ladder truck that is not manned routinely, which counted against their inspection.
Hall said the department continues to address replacement of hydrants on an annual basis. 
He said the department has met with insurance agents that write policies in New Hanover to explain the results of the inspection.
He said, "Starting next week we will be holding some public information meetings. We will be reaching out to the communities and holding these meetings at the fire houses." They will mail letters to property owners informing them of the potential for a reduction in their insurance costs.
Hall said future planning will be required to ensure the new ratings are maintained.
County Commission Chairman Ted Davis said it's a rare occasion to be able to give the citizens good news like potential insurance savings.
Davis said consolidation of fire services was a long and transparent process. He said, "One thing that I remember that I think was extremely helpful were the sessions we had where everybody from the public came in and the different fire individuals came in and we were able to talk about things and be very transparent. And concerns that they had, we addressed those concerns and you see where it got us. There were a lot of naysayers. There were a lot of negatives but in the end we prevailed and I'm glad we did what we did."
New Hanover County Fire Rescue will host a series of community informational meetings to discuss the new insurance district's rating, the rating process, and the potential financial savings homeowners may be eligible to receive.  The community meetings will also provide residents the opportunity to discuss fire safety information and tour the station.
Fire Station Community Meetings:
• Tuesday, June 12   
Station 19 - Federal Point
9815 River Road
Wilmington, NC 28412
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
• Wednesday, June 13   
Station 18 - Myrtle Grove
5636 Carolina Beach Road
Wilmington, NC 28412
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
• Thursday, June 14   
Station 17 - Murrayville
5901 Murrayville Road
Wilmington, NC 28405
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
• Monday, June 18   
Station 11 - Wrightsboro
3515 North Kerr Avenue
Wilmington, NC 28405
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
• Tuesday, June 19   
Station 13 - Castle Hayne
5311 Castle Hayne Road
Castle Hayne, NC 28429
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
• Wednesday, June 20   
Station 16 - Ogden
7375 Market Street
Wilmington, NC 28411
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
• Thursday, June 21   
Station 14 - Porters Neck
907 Porters Neck Road
Wilmington, NC 28411
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
For more information, visit New Hanover County Fire Rescue at http://www.nhcgov.com/Fire, or call (910) 798-7420.