Published: Oct 09, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Oct 09, 2012 04:23 PM
CHAPEL HILL - Orange County’s rural fire departments built two new stations this year, crafted aid agreements and made plans to keep home fire insurance affordable.
Fire departments statewide are making changes, because their state inspections rating, combined with a home’s distance from the department, determines the cost of the homeowner’s insurance premium. Homes more than six miles from a local fire department, including a few hundred in Orange County, could see major increases without changes.
County Commissioner Earl McKee√ said last week the state Department of Insurance is seeking increases up to 20 percent in some areas.
New Hope Fire Chief Mike Tapp√ said Orange County homeowners will reap benefits instead.
“We’re going to save the people a significant amount of money,” he said.
The Office of the State Fire Marshal, under the N.C. Department of Insurance, inspects fire departments every five years for water availability, personnel and equipment. More frequent inspections can be requested by a department or if the state thinks there might be a problem.
In the past, insurance companies determined premiums from an address or ZIP code. But with GIS mapping and other high-tech systems, such as Google Maps, they are finding it easier to pinpoint exactly how far a home is from its assigned fire department.
Three of the county’s 12 rural departments were rated this year. New Hope and Caldwell fire departments improved their ratings from Class 9 to Class 6 and Class 7, respectively, while Efland’s rating improved from Class 7 to Class 6.
While New Hope built a substation to meet its demand, Caldwell signed a mutual aid deal making nearby Eno Fire Department the primary responder to outlying homes closer to Eno’s district, Orange County Fire Marshal David Sykes√ said.
Caldwell Fire Chief Brad Allison√ said his department missed a better rating because it lacks paid staff and pressurized hydrants.
The ratings also are a way to show neighbors the return they’re getting on their tax dollars, Tapp said. Rural fire departments are funded through a fire tax on property values in their communities.
It’s not unusual for local fire departments to work together for everyone’s benefit, Allison said.
“The ones that have already done this are going to jump in and help the others, because we’re all one,” he said.
Sykes said this is the first-ever mutual aid agreement between individual departments, although the county has an existing policy to send three departments to structure fires.
The policy ensures there will be a full crew on the scene, especially when volunteer firefighters are at work during the day, he said. It also means there will be more water to fight the fire, he said.
Three more departments – Eno, Cedar Grove and Orange Grove Volunteer Fire Co.√ – will be rated next year. Orange Grove built a new station this year – on Rocky Ridge Road√ near Maple View Farm – and Orange Rural Fire Department built one on Walker Road√.
Orange Grove also is planning a third station to cover homes along the Orange-Alamance county line.
Meanwhile, more than 112 homes in North Chatham Fire Department’s district are at risk of a Class 10 rating. The county is negotiating new contracts to address those issues by July.
The county’s recently approved E911 communications system will provide more accurate response data once it’s installed next year, which will help in future inspections.