CCFR tries to ease sticker shock from new fire insurance rates

A fire truck returns to the Glacier Fire Station near the airport. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

Some Juneau homeowners are seeing a huge spike in their fire insurance rates based on new industry estimates for how long it takes firefighters to respond to their homes.

Capital City Fire and Rescue Chief Rich Etheridge says the department’s not doing anything different. But he says the way insurance companies calculate the distance from your house to the closest fire station recently changed.

“Fire departments and communities are rated on their level of fire protection on a scale of 1-10,” Etheridge explains. “So, what they do is they look at the distance your structure is from the fire station and from a fire hydrant and if it’s beyond those distances, because of how quickly fires grow and multiply, they feel that your house is at a greater risk for much larger losses. So, the further away you are the more your insurance rates go up.”

Many insurance companies use the firm Insurance Services Office, Inc. to determine the distance from your home to the closest fire station. Previously, Etheridge says ISO drew circles around a station on a map to determine which nearby properties it would cover. But in the last year, he says the firm started using GPS coordinates.

For years, he says the Juneau fire service area, which includes Douglas Island and everything out to 20-mile Glacier Highway, received a rating of four — meaning all properties were within at least five air miles of the nearest station.

“In past years, the North Douglas area fell within that five mile circle of the Glacier Station. It wasn’t practical that they would be the ones serving them, but it met their rules,” Etheridge says. “And for Thane, that five mile circle was encompassed into the Douglas Fire Station.”

According to a quick Google Maps analysis, Etheridge says CCFR determined about 150 homes out North Douglas Highway and 46 homes out Thane Road no longer fall within the ISO’s four rating, and are subject to the higher rates.

“Some folks have said $600, and I’ve heard as high as $800 a year,” he says.

Etheridge says the department has been able to help some homeowners dispute the new rates by proving they are within five miles of a station.

“Some of them have been an error, to where the insurance company has got them listed at more than five miles away, when they are actually only two or three miles away from a station,” he says. “So, some of those errors we are able to help them get corrected.”

Etheridge says anyone who thinks their insurance company may have it wrong should contact the department for assistance.

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