Fire district manages risks

Published on Thu, Oct 18, 2001 by Jack Kintner

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Fire district manages risks

By Jack Kintner

Four years ago two volunteer firefighters died attempting a “confined space” rescue in the central Washington town of Zillah. When the legal dust settled, the local fire district was out several million dollars in compensation to the surviving families.

North Whatcom Fire & Rescue Service (NWFRS) chief Mike Campbell cited this story as a kind of “handwriting on the wall” for the three local fire districts that comprise NWFRS. “Another factor affecting the cost of insurance is the standards that have been adopted nationally by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA),” Campbell added, “which, if not met locally, increase our liability exposure if something goes wrong.” The standards have to do with response times and volunteer training and qualification, and with changing legal definitions about what constitutes volunteer work.

Campbell presented a two-pronged attack to this problem for the NWFRS commissioners to consider at their regular meeting October 11, held this time in Point Roberts. One was the new Whatcom County Fire and Training Institute that was described at some length by its director Neil Good of fire district #4. With an inter-agency agreement the institute, located on district #4 property on Britton Loop Road, would provide training to a specified legal standard for volunteers in all participating fire districts in the county.

“We’ve received a favorable response and encouragement from every other fire district and related governmental unit in the county,” said Good as he stood at the blackboard and described the plan’s advantages.

Good’s plan calls for an inter-local agreement involving all the fire districts in the county plus the fire departments in Bellingham and Lynden who will cooperatively fund and staff the institute. NWFRS would be allowed to offer staffing and program development in lieu of funding contributions under the proposal. The commission will decide whether or not to commit itself to this plan at their next meeting.

The other part of Campbell’s agenda involved looking at insurance coverage. “At district #5 we saved several thousand dollars in premiums by changing our coverage. But sometimes public servants want the Cadillac coverage anyway if there are significant risks, such as in firefighting.”
“Is there a Volkswagen?” interjected commissioner John Fisher.

“Well, that’s the issue,” said Campbell. “We can reduce our premiums as well as other costs for each district by extending coverage over all of NWFRS and by better training, too. Liability coverage for each volunteer firefighter can run into several hundred dollars, but if the coverage is written to cover all three districts then the premiums go down for each, and tuition for training the volunteer at the institute is refunded by the state. You’ll get a trained volunteer at lower risk and much lower insurance cost.”

Two companies, along with their local representatives, made presentations for the commissioners. The choice will be made at the next meeting of the NWFRS commission, November 15 at the Haynie fire hall at 7 p.m. The commission will also make decisions on a final NWFRS budget.

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