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.
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 Department||FY 20-21||21-22||22-23|
|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|
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.