Bucksport Fire Chief Craig Bowden File Photo

Bucksport Fire Department working to lower homeowners’ insurance rates

BUCKSPORT — Last summer, Bucksport Fire Chief Craig Bowden got a call from concerned residents living in a house on Town Farm Road.

The family living there had been paying between $600 and $700 a year on homeowners’ insurance, but they received a notice from their insurance company saying they would have to start paying $1,100 to $1,200 a year.

The reason? According to the insurance company, their home was located more than five miles away from the nearest fire station.

When homes are that far away from a fire station, many insurance companies would give that home a fire protection rating of 10, the least protected and most expensive rating. That rating, called a class within the industry, makes homeowners’ insurance premiums much more expensive.

“Anything five miles from a fire station is considered class 10,” said Bowden, who explained that the difference between a rating of 1 or 2 or 6 or 7 can be as much as 5 to 10 percent on a homeowner’s insurance premium.

The jump from a 9 to a 10, however, can almost double an insurance premium.

“There are families in those areas who probably do not buy homeowners’ insurance because it’s too expensive because it’s in a class 10,” Bowden said.

“It’s a very substantial increase from a 9 to a 10,” said Terry Grindle, the manager for the Bucksport office of Grindle Insurance/Cross Agency, though he added that the size of the increase depends on the insurance company.

Grindle also has been a member of the Bucksport Fire Department since 1982.

“I’m a full-service independent agent,” he said. “I’ll insure your place and come by at 2 a.m. to put the fire out and drive the ambulance and then I’ll come back to file the claim.”

Bowden used Google Maps and Mapquest and he drove to the Town Farm Road house in two different vehicles to prove to the insurance company that it was within five miles of Bucksport’s fire station.

That saved the family $400 to $600 a year, but they’re not the only ones feeling the distance. Bowden said he usually gets three or four similar calls a month, from insurance companies or from people switching insurance companies.

When a home is more than five miles from the Bucksport fire station, it is usually within five miles of the Dedham, Orrington or Orland fire departments. Bucksport has mutual aid agreements with those towns, where the departments work together to provide fire protection.

However, there are still dead zones in the area around Jacob Buck Pond, on parts of Route 15, parts of Millvale Road and Bucks Mills Road that are more than five miles from any of those departments.

“A few years ago there were close to 300 homes in that area,” Bowden said. “There are probably more than that now.”

The homeowners there have to pay for a class 10 fire protection rating, but Bowden hopes to change that soon. With recent upgrades to the town’s fire department, water lines and dispatch services, he believes the fire protection ratings will drop across town.

“It has been about 15 years since we had a full updated review,” said Bowden, who for the past few weeks has been meeting with members of the Insurance Services Office, an industry group that decides the fire protection ratings for municipalities. Since the last review, the Hancock County Regional Communications Center (RCC) was built in Ellsworth.

Bowden said the RCC helps trace 9-1-1 calls so that responders have a better sense of where they’re going when they get a call. Bucksport also has built two new water towers, replaced its fire hydrants and replaced most of its 50- to 60-year-old iron water lines, some of which had rusted so that they were really only the width of a garden hose.

“A garden hose doesn’t really do you much good for fire protection,” Bowden said.

While many Bucksport residents live outside the town’s hydrant district, the improved infrastructure could help lower the district’s rating from a 5 to a 4 or a 3.

Bowden said the Fire Department also has upgraded its equipment, training programs and record-keeping since the last review, all of which could help further lower the town’s fire protection rating.

“Between what the Fire Department’s done, what communication upgrades we’ve done and the water system, I’m hoping the in-town district will get a 1 or 2 point decrease, which will allow a 15-20 percent decrease in homeowners’ insurance,” Bowden said.

Hopefully that decrease will extend to the homes outside Bucksport’s hydrant district but within five miles of the fire station. Those homes currently have a rating of 9.

“If you’ve got 200 to 300 homes that even save a couple hundred dollars a year, I mean you’re talking $40-50,000 a year,” Bowden said.

Bowden also mentioned the possibility of building a substation somewhere closer to the homes that are more than five miles from current fire stations. The substation would house firefighting equipment and a truck, and it would not have to be manned.

“Those members of the fire department near the substation can get a truck to the fire scene faster than the guys in town,” said Grindle, the firefighter and insurance salesman.

“We have that equipment and apparatus to outfit the station. It would actually gain us some room here that we’ve run out of,” said Bowden, who added that the substation might cost $100,000 to $150,000 to build. “The research that we’ve done shows that the taxpayers out back would see a decrease every year in their insurance premiums, so it would effectively pay for itself within two or three years.”

It may take several years for the town to make plans and build a substation, but in the next several months Bowden hopes ISO will give Bucksport residents near and far a better fire protection classification.

“It’s not only saving money but some people might be able to afford the insurance if it gets reclassified,” he said.

David Roza

David Roza

Former reporter, David Roza grew up in Washington County, Maryland, has reported in Washington County, Oregon, and covered news in Hancock County and Washington County, Maine for The American and Out & About.

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