Graniteville Volunteer Fire Company, an all-volunteer department in Nevada County, will cease operations on October 31st, 2022. Chief Paulus explained the fire company could no longer afford the liability insurance. This prompted us to investigate increases in liability insurance coverage for local fire departments, and what we found is nothing short of very troubling. Local fire departments in Nevada County have seen their premiums for liability insurance double and sometimes triple year over year.

Chief Paulus, Captain Ceselini, Captain Skelley
Chief Paulus, Captain Ceselini, Captain Skelley

I feel that I should inform your readers that the Graniteville Volunteer Fire Company will be suspending emergency services October 31, 2022, due to the dramatic increase in our insurance coverage. We have an annual budget of only $10,000. I just received our quote for this coming year at $18,000. It is frustrating to have to do this during peak fire season, but the reality leaves me no other alternative for now.

Graniteville Volunteer Fire Company Chief Rob Paulus

Increases over the past three fiscal years for local fire departments

Fire DepartmentFY 20-2121-2222-23
Graniteville Volunteer Fire Company$3,000$6,000$18,000
Higgins Fire Department$18,000$36,000$55,000
Penn Valley Fire Protection District$19,857$35,821$41,421
Peardale Chicago Park Fire$9,000$17,000$38,500
North San Juan$12,718$22,406$45,670
Nevada County Consolidated Fire District$57,000$138,000
Information provided by the respective fire departments

Rough & Ready Fire’s policy terminates on Oct. 31st, reportedly they received a quote for six months of coverage for $38,000 – twice the amount for their 21-22 annual policy.

October 20, 2022 at 10:03 AM Update: We corrected the numbers for Nevada County Consolidated and added their increases to the table above.

Nevada County Consolidated Fire District’s premium for the coming year is $139,000 – a $49,000 increase according to Chief Turner.

Not your traditional insurance broker

Fire departments carry liability insurance for their their board, staff, and the equipment they operate. Several Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) organizations provide coverage for these public agencies.

In Nevada County, Fire Agencies Insurance Risk Authority (FAIRA) and Fire Districts Association of California (FDAC) have been providing services to the local departments, another JPA is Golden State Risk Management Authority (GSRMA).

FAIRA was created in 1987, after one of the largest insurers for California Fire Districts informed the fire industry that they would not be renewing their insurance in the coming year. [source: FAIRA]

Spurred by the Watson Initiative to cut property taxes, the Fire Districts Association of California (FDAC) was formed in 1972. The organization, spearheaded by South Placer Fire District and Citrus Heights Fire District Chief Warren Desimone, became the first organization to represent the special interests of California Fire Protection Districts. [source: FDAC]

Too many fires in California, according to the insurance companies

Several Fire Chiefs related conversations with their respective insurance agents. In every case they were told insurance carriers are declining to write new policies because “the fire risk is so high in California.” Penalizing public agencies fighting wildfires and avoiding costly payouts for insurance companies appears to be an irony completely lost on the corporations.

The Chiefs also voiced their frustration at the apparent absence of regulations preventing insurance carriers from increasing premiums in this manner.

Reduced staffing likely if no relief

Fire departments and their respective boards have a conundrum to solve: Find funding to pay for these astounding increases without cutting services. It may not be possible for some, and layoffs of firefighters with ensuing reduction in services are a distinct possibility. However, many of these departments have only a few paid staff and supplement with volunteers, meaning staffing cuts are not an option.

Nevada County Supervisors react

We reached out to Nevada County Supervisors Bullock, Hall and Hoek for comment, apprising them of what we learned. While the Nevada County BOS has no authority over local fire departments, the county’s first priority/mission is public health and safety.

“A 300% increase in insurance costs is devastating for Graniteville as a small volunteer fire department and illustrates the potential statewide impacts. These small fire departments provide essential emergency response services, like the initial response to recreation accidents, that are beyond fire for remote and hard-to-reach places.” – Hardy Bullock

“As soon as we became aware, we made a plan on how to elevate this to our state partners. I contacted the California Insurance Commissioner’s Office and reached out to the Governor’s Office last night to make sure they know the urgency of this issue for local volunteer fire departments and fire districts. Although this may be hitting our smaller fire districts the hardest, this issue is happening statewide and requires action from our state officials.” – Heidi Hall

“We are doing everything we can to advocate on behalf of the fire districts on this issue. In addition to sending formal advocacy letters to the Governor and the California Insurance Commissioner, we are working with our legislative advocates and the Rural County Representatives of California. This impacts all of our fire districts, and although it may not mean closure, it could mean reduced staffing or a reduction of other on-the-ground resources for our community.” – Sue Hoek

We reached out to the California Department of Insurance, no response was received by publication time.

On Thursday evening (Oct. 20, 2022) at 7:00 pm, Nevada County Consolidated Fire Department’s regular board meeting has an item on the agenda discussing the issue. The meeting is open to the public and is held at 11329 McCourtney Road, Grass Valley.

If you are a firefighter, staff or board member of a local fire district in California, feel free to contact us and share your department’s situation.

4 replies on “Skyrocketing liability premiums lead to one local fire department closing, major impacts on others”

  1. The anti-tax movement that began with Proposition 13 in 1978. I was a Firefighter in Contra Costa County at the time. Layoffs were one serious option considered at the time. I moved to Placer County and chose to leave the fire service at that time.
    Fast-forward to 1994 when I was once again employed as a Fierfighter and more anti-tax fervor led to the department I was employed by needing to reduce their paid force. Once again, I made the choice to leave so orher, younger Firefighters would not lose their job.
    Public safety and the costs associated with it is an issue that must be borne by paying taxes. Period. A well staffed professional fire service is an essential service that must rise above political ideology. Private industries and private citizens all benefit if they are willing to pay for such protection. Insurance companies have no interest in your safety. They are in business to reduce their cost to pay for your lossess. You have a choice. You can pay for protection, or pay for potential recovery of some of your loss. I choose protection by professionals who are readily available for a quick response.

  2. This issue has nothing to do with measure V. I find it simultaneously ironic that state and local firefighters are feeling the crush of high insurance costs while the homeowners have complained about this for YEARS. Fire departments: that’s what you have to pay.
    So pay it or lose it fire staff. That’s the way it works.

  3. I am perplexed by this article as usually liability costs are increased due to the classification of business and its associated risk. The peril of fire should have of not deterred or caused the increase of cost, rather the classification of business and losses associated with it. Even though the Volunteer FD itself may not of had losses, other carriers may have sustained losses and will increase rates based off of that.

  4. Why can’t the state simply underwrite the fire departments, think about how bad it would be if they ceased to exist? And by the way good forrest management requires the cleanup of downed wood & small trees growing in the understory, if we want to stop the devastating effects & prevent crown fires, not clear cutting or timber harvesting which some would have you believe.
    We need live thriving Forrest’s now more than ever as a hedge against global warming!

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