Town working to improve fire insurance rating

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 29, 2000

MONTEREY, La. – Forty hydrants, seven water cannons and more than 18,000 feet of additional fire hose could lower Monterey residents’ home insurance rates by as much as 50 percent.

Those additions to Monterey Fire Protection District No. 1 could help lower the area’s fire rating but one step, in turn sharply reducing homeowners’ insurance rates.

But since the volunteer district operates five stations and six fire trucks on only $18,000 a year from property taxes and insurance rebates, it doesn’t have the money to make those changes on its own, said Chief Jim Graves.

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So the district is now in the process of applying for grants from the U.S. Forest Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Graves said Friday he hopes to have those applications turned in by the end of August. &uot;They review the applications and determine how much you get, so we’re not sure of an amount yet,&uot;&160;Graves said. &uot;But we would need at least $300,000.&uot;

About three months ago, the district finished installing its first 21 fire hydrants. Previously, the district had 10 &uot;filler plugs,&uot; which can only be used to fill tanker trucks to transport water to a fire scene.

About $262,200 would be used to install 40 more fire hydrants throughout the 400-square-mile district, which is home to more than 2,500 residents. District officials will decide during the next month exactly where those hydrants will be placed, Graves said.

&uot;We do know that a home has to be within 1,000 feet of a hydrant, and some of the houses out here are pretty far apart,&uot; he added.

About $16,800 in grant funds would be used to install large &uot;water cannons&uot; on each of the department’s six fire trucks as well as a seventh truck being donated to the district by Catahoula Parish’s Ward 9 Fire District.

Another $21,000 in grant money would also be used to place 3,000 feet of fire hose on each truck.

Those truck equipment upgrades, along with the installation of 40 more fire hydrants, are what the Monterey district needs to move from a class 9 fire rating back to an 8 rating, Graves said.

In 1998 the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana, which rates fire departments on a scale of 10 to 1 according to such factors as training, equipment and facilities, gave the Monterey district a fire rating of 8 for homes. (The rating for business in the district is a 10.)

&uot;They came back six months later and told us they had given us the wrong rating (for homes) the first time, that it should have been a 9,&uot; Graves said.

When the rating was corrected to a 9, those homeowners served by the volunteer district felt the pinch in the form of higher rates. One of them, Concordia Parish Police Juror Red Tiffee, said his insurance bill doubled.

Insurance rates &uot;are based on a lot of things, including the type of police and coverage a person has,&uot; said Debbie Hamilton, a Monterey area resident who also works for Farm Bureau Insurance in Ferriday.

Having a larger number of fire hydrants would also be more convenient for the department itself.

&uot;We have as much water in our trucks as we need – about 10,000 gallons,&uot; Graves said. &uot;But hydrants are relatively maintenance-free and are already there on site.&uot;

Once the needed upgrades to equipment and hydrants are made, Property Insurance Association personnel can be called back into the area to re-rate the district.

A rating of 8 is not difficult to achieve and is about the average rating for a volunteer fire department in northeast Louisiana, said Nolen Cothren, chief of Concordia Fire District No. 2 and president of the Louisiana Fire Chiefs’ Association.

&uot;They’ve got some improvements to do. It’s a tough situation when you don’t have the money,&uot; Cothren said. But by applying for the grants, he added, &uot;they’re working on that.&uot;