Decline in volunteer firefighters drives up home insurance

A shortage of volunteer firefighters across B.C. could lead to dramatically higher fire insurance premiums for homeowners, according to the Fire Underwriters Survey.

Insurance group finds many communities do not have enough volunteer firefighters to mitigate risk

Malahat Fire Rescue volunteer firefighter Rob Neil looks on as his crew ready their new truck for duty at the fire hall in August, 2013. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

A shortage of volunteer firefighters across B.C. could lead to dramatically higher fire insurance premiums for homeowners, according the Fire Underwriters Survey.

The national organization, which evaluates the ability of communities to fight fires so insurance companies can set their annual rates, says that dozens of B.C. communities do not meet the minimum number of firefighters to mitigate risk for insurers.

Residents of Sooke, B.C., for instance, have been told their fire insurance premiums could increase by an average of $1,400 next year. The story is similar across the province, where three quarters of B.C. towns have volunteer departments and recruitment is a growing problem.

"There is a trend in Canada that volunteerism is on a downward spiral, particularly with respect to fire departments, because fire departments are becoming a little bit more diligent in how they are operated,” says Michael Currie, the survey’s director.

There is a trend in Canada that volunteerism is on a downward spiral, particularly with respect to fire departments.- Michael Currie, Fire Underwriters Survey

In the past, says Currie, locals would sign up on a volunteer basis to “just fight fires and be the hero.”

“Fifty years ago, fire departments were operated more like a community club," he says.

But now, “they're finding more and more what they're actually doing is administrating a department; there's a lot of paperwork and stuff that's not as fun."

The survey is ongoing, and information is collected from fire departments and water purveyors every five years, says Currey, but the results cannot be publicly released without permission from each community.

However the FUS is currently working to create an online portal for fire chiefs that will allow them to compare their communities with those having similar demographics, which have given permission for their data to be publicly visible, he says.

With files from the CBC's Lisa Cordasco

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