Eagle County fire protection is good — with exceptions
The farther you are from a station, the higher your insurance bill
This story has been corrected regarding the number of Colorado fire departments with an ISO rating of 1.
Rating fire departments seems like esoteric work — until you try to buy homeowners insurance. Then it can matter a lot.
The Insurance Services Offices, or ISO, every five years rates fire departments across the nation. Those ratings look at factors including emergency communications, water supply, firefighter staffing and training and the type of equipment a department has.
Ratings through the ISO organization range from 1 to 10, with 1 at the top of the scale.
For the second time since 2015, Vail’s fire department’s rating is 2, the best in the valley. Of the 679 Colorado fire departments rated, Vail is among just 38 departments in the state to earn a 2 rating. Vail Fire Chief Mark Novak said several departments in the state have a 1 rating, including Denver.
Much of the rest of the most populous part of the valley has an ISO rating of 3. The Eagle River Fire Protection District, Greater Eagle Fire Protection District and Gypsum Fire Protection District are three of the 70 departments in the state with that rating.
Why this matters
Many insurers use those ratings when writing homeowners insurance policies, although some big companies use their own systems.
While the valley’s most-populated areas have high ratings, those ratings can quickly climb — along with insurance rates — when insurers start including factors that can include distance from a fire station or distance from a home to a hydrant.
The Gypsum Fire Protection District covers perhaps the most territory in the valley. District Chief Justin Kirkland said the department’s ISO ratings depend in large part on location. If a department has to bring water to an address, that affects the insurance rating.
Eage River Fire Protection District Fire Marshal Mick Woodworth said ratings numbers often have a letter attached. For instance, a home between five and seven miles from a fire station, but near a fire hydrant, can get a 3X fire rating. Homes more than seven miles from a station get a 10 rating, the worst. But a 10W rating for a home indicates the availability of enough water to fight a fire.
“If you were to build a home up Lake Creek, you’d be required to have a (water) cistern,” Woodworth said. “You’d get a huge discount.”
But that discount might be applied to a very high insurance bill.
Patty Hood, owner of the Hood Insurance Agency, said the Sweetwater area has a 10 rating, meaning insurance rates are “very high.”
Sometimes an ISO rating means some insurers won’t write policies on a home.
“A lot of carriers won’t insure you if you’re more than five or six miles from a fire department,” Hood said. And, she added, she recently asked one company for a quote on a property 7.5 miles up Brush Creek. The company wouldn’t provide a quote.
Insurers are also looking at wildfire mitigation steps property owners have completed.
Hood said some carriers are asking owners to clear brush from around their property before they’ll write a policy. Other factors include whether a home has internal and external sprinklers, outdoor wood storage and if a home has wooden shake shingles.
Sometimes insurers look at terrain, regardless of how far a home is from a fire station.
Hood said one company won’t write policies on Eby Creek Mesa, due to that neighborhood’s location and the fact it’s surrounded by sage, pinion and juniper.
Another carrier won’t write policies in Gypsum’s Red Hill neighborhood.
“Carriers are getting fussier,” Hood said. “The cost is going up and there are a lot more risk evaluations.”
Again, some carriers will cover property other firms won’t. Hood said it’s essential to shop around. But, she added, “A lot of carriers are becoming really, really cautious.”
The Insurance Services Offices (ISO) is an insurance industry advisory organization responsible for the Public Protection Classification system. This system is used to evaluate fire departments. This classification system is used by many insurance companies to make determinations regarding insurability, coverage levels and cost.
Source: Vail Fire Department