Property owners will be 'big losers' in West Hants fire services dispute

Expert predicts higher fire insurance rates if WFD terminates service June 30

Carole Morris-Underhill
Published on June 23, 2014

John Redden, the public fire protection specialist at Fire Underwriters Survey for the Atlantic Canada region, says county residents should brace for higher insurance premiums if the Windsor Fire Department and West Hants council can't reach an agreement before the WFD terminates service June 30.

©Carole Morris-Underhill

Windsor's pending termination of fire service to West Hants has piqued the interest of insurance companies and fire protection specialists across the country.

And, if the June 30 deadline comes to pass without the two parties reaching a truce, an expert is predicting many homeowners and businesses will see their insurance rates skyrocket over the coming year.

John Redden, a public fire protection specialist at Fire Underwriters Survey for the Atlantic Canada region, said he's been keeping an eye on the situation brewing in the county, as has his colleagues across the country. They're planning for the worst.

“I can assure you, the grades are going to change,” said Redden if the pending separation comes to pass.

When a fire grade changes, it impacts the insurance rate for the area.

Although Town of Windsor property owners will not likely see any change in their rates, the same can't be said for the outlying areas currently receiving fire protection from the Windsor Fire Department.

“First off, if Windsor gives up service then what we're going to end up with is a large area in both Falmouth and Three Mile Plains, Newport Station and St. Croix that no longer are going to have a protection grade from our perspective,” said Redden.

No protection grade, or even a class nine grade, will result in a considerable hike in insurance costs. That increase will occur regardless if West Hants implements Plan B, which is to rely on the existing neighbouring fire departments to provide coverage to the unprotected areas, or if the municipality builds a fire station right away. The earliest the poor grade could be adjusted would be in about three years.

“We don't set insurance costs. I want to make that clear. What we set is a grade. Insurance companies use our grades in their logarithm to develop the cost,” said Redden.

For a commercial property valued at about $300,000 in the WFD's extended coverage area, Redden said the property owner would currently pay around $1,235 to $1,300 in fire insurance.

But, if a deal isn't reached by June 30 at noon to prevent the service interruption, the area will be downgraded from a class five to a class nine or 10. Redden said upon renewal of their insurance, the commercial property owner could anticipate a bill for $2,700 to $3,000.

“They are enjoying a fair commercial break,” said Redden of the properties currently covered by the WFD.

As another example, a homeowner in Falmouth with a property replacement valued at $375,000 would pay roughly between $1,300 and $1,400 in fire insurance.

“If we move them to an unprotected (grade), they're looking at $4,188 — that's a 210 per cent jump,” said Redden.

Even homeowners with smaller properties, like those valued in the $100,000 range, will feel the sting of the unprotected grade change. If they pay between $475 and $500 annually, Redden said that rate would increase to about $1,400 per year.

“It'll probably take a year to a year and a half for it to be reflected in a lot of insurance policies,” noted Redden.

When asked if his projections are accurate, Redden noted: “I'm not doing any fear mongering.”

He said the rates will only change drastically like this if WFD ceases service to the county.



Concerns around the county

Redden said property owners in Brooklyn's main coverage area, as well as Summerville's coverage area and Hantsport's coverage area won't likely see a change in their rates.

However, the same cannot be said for the outlying areas.

Areas of particular concern, he said, would include properties from Hartville Road to the Windsor town boundary, the industrial park by Highway 101, Falmouth, and the properties along Chester Road heading to Vaughans — to name a few.

If ties between the WFD and municipality are severed, the commercial enterprises along Wentworth Road — like the restaurants, gas stations, exhibition and motel — would be classified as an unprotected area.

“I can see the negative impact coming on that in a variety of different ways; one, the insurance rates going up for the people who have businesses there, but number 2, being a deterrent for new business to be put there,” said Redden.

“There's going to be a lot in Falmouth that becomes unprotected, and what goes unprotected, the costs go up,” he said, noting Hantsport's coverage grid might be able to extend further out to provide coverage to Mount Denson and a small segment of Falmouth.

Redden said there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to the Southwest Hants fire station, as it is currently affiliated with the WFD.

“The big losers in this are going to be Lower Vaughans, because they don’t have the numbers on their own, and some of the Windsor players... were actually credited to the Lower Vaughans fire department, giving them the numbers for first response. That's why their grade was where it was,” said Redden.

“It's all going to have to be re-evaluated,” he said. “Vaughans is going to be interesting.”



July 2013 presentation

This isn’t the first time Redden has spoken out on this issue.

He was invited to speak at a special fire services presentation July 3, 2013 at the Royal Canadian Legion in Windsor. He presented alongside two other experts in the fire services field. Following the meeting, where residents were informed the WFD coverage provided the best bang for West Hants' buck, some councillors questioned the objectivity of the panel and the accuracy of the results.

Unlike the other experts who were hired to do the research, Redden said he did not receive “a cent” for his input.

“The reason we're involved is because of the implications on the public and the insurance companies if the county goes ahead with this,” said Redden.



Moving forward

While Redden hopes the county and WFD can find some common ground and prevent the service breakdown, he said whatever happens will take time to iron out.

I think this can be fixed if the parties involved are willing to fix it and I don't think there's going to be  a winner in it,” said Redden. “There's no winner in Windsor, no winner in the county and it's likely not going to go away for a number of years.”

However, if the two entities part ways, Redden said it will be the area residents and business owners that suffer the most.

“Fire service is not cheap. It's a service that we pay for. The only benefit we receive is in insurance premiums and where this is headed, they're not even going to receive that benefit — and that's what bothers me, from a personal aspect,” said Redden.

“The big losers in this are going to be the people who live in the area.”