Nova Scotia

Cape Breton fire department shocked by insurance hike

Insurance costs are rising for some Nova Scotia fire departments, including a Cape Breton station that saw its premium to cover its vehicles rise by more than 250 per cent.

Station's longtime insurance provider raised vehicle premium by more than $7K this year

Fire trucks are shown at a station in Kamloops, B.C. Some Nova Scotia fire departments are facing steep increases in the cost of insurance for their vehicles. (Kamloops Fire Rescue/Facebook)

Insurance costs are rising for some Nova Scotia fire departments, including a Cape Breton station that saw its premium to cover its vehicles rise by more than 250 per cent. 
 
Jim Cavanagh, the chief of the Port Hastings volunteer fire department, said it was a punch to the gut when he opened a letter with this year's quote.

"Our overall insurance policy went up 81 per cent, and the auto part of it itself went up 235 per cent," said Cavanagh.

"It was kind of a shock to the system because we never had any claims."

Cavanagh said the station's longtime insurance provider raised its vehicle premium by more than $7,000 this year.

Premium quote triples

Although the station normally spends about $3,130, its commercial vehicle insurance was quoted at $10,500. 

The overall cost of insuring the station — from trucks, equipment and the fire hall building — jumped from $9,890 to nearly $18,000.

Cavanagh said the department phoned around and found another provider. But their costs are still up $5,000.

Searching for answers

Cavanagh first heard rumblings about premium hikes during a meeting of the mutual aid association, made up of 28 fire departments from all four counties around the Strait of Canso.

The Port Hastings department's insurance broker explained that among the reasons for their increase was the fact that the company had acquired a new underwriter. 
 
"It was the same old mumbo jumbo... changing marketplace conditions, weather patterns, claim trends, interest rates and of course the pandemic comes up," Cavanagh said. "But no real definite [answer]." 

Port Hastings added a vehicle, and expanded its fire hall in 2019. Cavanagh said that resulted in a small change in its premiums in 2020. But there were no significant changes to affect their rate last year. 

The station was told it would qualify for a lower insurance premium if it had a fleet of vehicles. But the department would have to add another fire truck at a cost of about $500,000 to meet the requirements.

Daniel Gaudet, president of the Fire Service Association of Nova Scotia, said he's received a number of emails about insurance concerns, but said increases are not across the board. 

"It [basically depends on] who the insurance provider or who your broker is, because there's some departments that haven't seen an increase, or a very slight increase," Gaudet said.

'Not a lot of communication'

Allan MacMaster, the MLA for Inverness, said he's heard from a number of people who saw their premiums rise this year, including homeowners.

MacMaster said because insurance is an industry that's regulated by the provincial government, he believes there is a role for the government to play in ensuring that customers understand rate increases.

"There's not a lot of communication back ... in terms that people can easily understand that would explain why somebody's rate would go up 30 or 40 per cent," MacMaster said. 

"It's one thing for us to have to pay higher insurance but it's a lot easier to do it if we understand why the rates are going up."

A request sent to the Department of Finance and Treasury Board was not immediately returned. 

Bureau says claims rising

Amanda Dean of the Insurance Bureau of Canada said one of the biggest reasons why Nova Scotia's commercial vehicle premiums are rising is due to the number of claims that were filed in recent years. 

"What we're looking at is about seven years in a row where insurers have paid out more money than they've taken in," Dean said. 

"As claims drive premiums it stands to reason that things might be a little more expensive in the not too distant future."

Dean said preliminary data from the General Insurance Statistical Agency shows that 2020 was no different in terms of pay out. 

Asked whether the pandemic meant fewer drivers on the road, Dean said the impact was not reflected in the number of claims made.

"There were still claims and in some cases those claims were of a higher value, or cost more to settle," she said. 

Moving forward

Cavanagh said he spoke to his previous insurer but was told no adjustment could be made because the premiums were approved by the province's Utility and Review Board. 

He said more money spent on insurance means less money for training, along with maintaining and purchasing equipment. 

The department receives its operating capital twice a year from Inverness County, but relies heavily on money that comes in through fundraising. But even that source of funding was tough during the pandemic.

"My front-line pumper is now 24 years old," said Cavanagh. "We were due to hopefully order a new one two years ago which is … on hold.

"Everything with the fire service is extremely expensive, everything has to be inspected, everything has to be certified. There's ongoing expenses there that we have to incur no matter if the trucks roll or if they don't."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erin Pottie

Reporter

Erin Pottie is a CBC reporter based in Sydney. She has been covering local news in Cape Breton for 15 years. Story ideas welcome at erin.pottie@cbc.ca.

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