Monday evening the first of four info sessions about some surprising fire insurance premium hikes within the Statesboro Fire Department's five-mile zones drew about 25 people to Fire Station 2, SFD Chief Tim Grams reported.
Speaking Tuesday morning to City Council, Grams also announced the remaining three public information meetings. These will be held on the next three Mondays, all starting at 6 p.m. and ending by 8 p.m., at different locations. The Feb. 11 meeting will be at Trinity Episcopal Church on Country Club Road near the bypass; the Feb. 18 meeting in the cafeteria at William James Middle School on U.S. Highway 80 West; and the Feb. 25 meeting in the gym at Langston Chapel Elementary School on Langston Chapel Road.
The dramatic insurance cost increases that some homeowners have seen reflect a change in the way the Insurance Services Office's fire protection ratings are applied, Grams said. The emphasis now is on having a proven water flow available instead of just the proximity of a fire station and hydrant.
“This really hasn’t been an issue for our citizens inside the city limits because of our municipal water system,” Grams told the mayor and council. “I’ll certainly give them (the Water Department) kudos because they do an excellent job maintaining that system, and that is one thing we do not want for inside the city is water. … But that is not the case in the fire district.”
The Fire Department has received numerous phone calls expressing “frustrations of citizens out there with their insurance,” he reported.
One example heard Monday evening was from a homeowner whose annual premiums increased $5,000, “evidently a pretty large home” but after a change of ISO rating from “3” to, in effect, “8B,” Grams said.
The ISO, a business organization that provides data to insurance companies, traditionally issues fire protection classifications on a scale of 10 to 1, with 10 being no recognized public fire protection and 1 being the best available.
Effective last October, Statesboro achieved what for properties on the city water system is a near-best ISO classification of 2. But the rating for the service district overall is actually a split "2/2Y," where "2Y" represents the lesser protection available for addresses within the service district that are not on the city's water system and have a commercial or private water supply not certified to provide sufficient flow, Grams explained in a brief interview. He noted that the current "2Y" is equivalent to an old-style ISO rating of “8B.” The ISO changed its designations for split ratings in 2014.
It’s not the change in the designation that has caused some property owners’ rates to go up, but instead the fact that the ISO now requires tested water supply capabilities, he explained. Previously, insurance agents could get a fire department to issue a letter indicating that a specific property was within five miles of the station and 1,000 feet of a hydrant or other “credible water source,” Grams noted. That allowed an “8B” property to get the benefit of the previous 3, or now 2, classification.
“Now ISO is using technology, and they know” whether a hydrant provides enough water, he said.
That shift actually goes back more than five years, he said, but it took time to show up in the way the rules are applied to individual properties and then in the rates.
The Fire Department had informed city officials of the new requirements in 2015, and the city took steps to certify its own water supply.
But the issue now is with private or commercial water systems, such as those serving subdivisions outside the city limits but in the fire service district. Grams told the mayor and council that the Fire Department had previously sent letters to water companies three times and received no response.
“I just don’t think they understood the impact and their part in it,” he said. “But they understand now, without a doubt.”
Four major local water companies and some smaller independent systems are affected, Grams said after the council meeting, and hazarded a guess that these serve 1,000 or more homes.
The Monday meetings are to share information not only on the problem but also on steps being taken to solve it, he said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.