Upcoming Old Lyme Fire Department Audit to Determine Local Insurance Costs

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OLD LYME — The town’s volunteer fire department is preparing paperwork for an evaluation that will affect how much Old Lyme property owners pay for fire insurance. In preparation for the evaluation process, the Board of Finance approved $15,120 for aluminum signs and hoses on December 17.

The Insurance Services Office, a subsidiary of insurance data company Verisk Analytics, rates fire departments and their surrounding communities, on their readiness to respond to fire emergencies. Those ratings are based in part on staff size and training, water supply, emergency communications, and public outreach efforts.

“It’s there for the people and for their protection, to make sure we’re efficient in what we do, how we approach things, and how we look at safety and where we can be changing things,” said Old Lyme Fire Chief Steve Super.

The ratings calculate a Public Protection Classification on scale of one to ten, in which a one indicates the highest level of protection, and a ten that the department failed to meet the minimum requirements. Any house more than five driven miles by from the nearest fire station is automatically rated a ten.

Prior to 1992, Old Lyme Fire Department held a rating of nine. Since 1992, Old Lyme has maintained a rating of six, which Super said is about as good as possible for a rural town without a professional fire department and a 24-7 staff. According to Super, that change was enough to save the average commercial or residential property owner hundreds of dollars per year or more.

Super said that good marks on the audit is a point of pride for the department.

“We’re basically backing the statement that we’re a six because of this, and here’s our results and our equipment. We’re dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s, and proving that we’re keeping up on our stuff.”

New audit format contributed to $15,000 request

Fire department volunteers are currently evaluating the department’s equipment, training programs, and coverage area to fill out all the forms required by the Insurance Services Office ahead of the audit. The actual audit inspection by officials from the company will likely take less than an hour, Super said. He added that the department expects to have the audit done the beginning of March 2020.

“Once we’re ready to go, [the audit] will take about 45 minutes,” he said, “but it takes about 9 months to get ready.”

This year, the insurance company has changed some of the audit’s formatting, and it will be shortening the time period between evaluations from seven to five years. 

Super told the Board of Finance on December 17 that the audit’s reformatting would require the department to move up their scheduled purchase of some new fire hoses and to purchase new aluminum signs designating firewalls.

At that meeting, the finance board approved a $15,120 special appropriation for the fire department, which would cover about $9,009 for hoses and about $6,112 for 120 aluminum 12” by 12” signs.

Super said that the fire department is applying for a grant from Connecticut Water that could potentially reimburse the town for part of the cost of the equipment.

“We lost a couple feet of hose to age and failure, so to keep our equipment side of our [rating] we had to keep that so that when we get audited,” Super said. “They’re going to go though every piece of equipment to make sure we have what we say we have and they’re likely to take off our hose head to see how much we have in feet.”

The reformatting also changed the standards for what constitutes a firewall, Super said. Old Lyme has about 125 firewalls, which include entities such as ponds and streams that act as barriers against large fires spreading. Now all firewalls have to be marked with signs to count.

“They want a notification number and a street visual aid,” Super said. “We know where they’re at because we check them on an annual basis, but if someone comes out of town from Westbrook, say, to help with a fire this is so they can find them with ease.”

The goal is to maintain the town’s rating at 6, Super said, but he acknowledged that it is possible the town could slip in some areas of the evaluation. He said that the town’s fire rating has to be considered alongside other factors: cities with professional departments will have likely have lower fire insurance costs, but they also have to pay much more in taxes to fund professional fire departments.

“The mill rate would triple if we went to a paid department,” he said, “and I don’t think any of the volunteers in our department would want that because we pay taxes too… And we do it basically for the love of the community. We’re the ones running into the house when other people are running out.”