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Homeowners worried that fire department charging fee for fire calls

A local couple wants homeowners and renters to be aware of what their insurance says about fire coverage after receiving a call from an insurance company
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Moose Jaw Fire Department, North Hill Station (Larissa Kurz photograph)

A Moose Jaw couple wants homeowners and renters to be aware of what their insurance says about fire coverage after learning they might have to pay $10,000 to the fire department.

The couple — who asked to remain anonymous for fear of ridicule — have been living in a hotel since Feb. 12 after a fire damaged their home.

“We’re good. We were not injured. It wasn’t an enormous fire, but it made a big mess,” the wife said. 

The couple’s insurance assessor arrived on the scene after the firefighters had finished and told them that they might receive a bill from the Moose Jaw Fire Department (MJFD) as part of a fee-for-charge, she explained. The assessor was surprised about this, noting he had assessed another fire two months earlier and learned the homeowners would be billed $10,000.

“He said he’s been in the business for 30 years and has never heard of property owners being charged,” said the woman. 

The couple later received a call from Fire Marque — an Ontario-based insurance company that collects on behalf of fire departments — that gave them a claim number and asked for their insurance. The agent also told them that the MJFD had instituted this recovery policy in 2015 but had acted upon it only recently. 

The resident was unsure how much she would be charged since the bill had not arrived yet. She doubted that she and her husband would have to pay since they have insurance. Yet, she wondered how she missed the news that the MJFD would collect for attending to her home. 

“I guess I’m just concerned. People (who are) apartment renters, they wouldn’t have a clue,” the resident added. “And then they would get a bill, and a lot of apartment renters don’t have insurance or anything. And wow, people could really get a wallop here. It’s bad enough having a fire; that’s enough of shock.”

Fire chief explains

The fire department does not charge a fee-for-service in Moose Jaw, explained Fire Chief Rod Montgomery. 

Since 2015, the department has had an agreement with Fire Marque, which allows the company to check affected property owners’ insurance policies, he continued. If applicable, it ensures that the insurance provider honours the package premiums, with that money going to the department. Homeowners are not charged if their insurance policy does not have this clause.  

Those premiums are usually kept low since the fire department is fully trained, while the city is considered fully protected since there is a fire hydrant on almost every corner. 

“But there’s no additional cost to the homeowner; their taxes don’t go up (and) their premiums aren’t affected,” said Montgomery. “It only affects them if they’ve made a claim, and the invoice is only to the insurance company.”

There are some years where the organization receives some money from premiums and other years where it does not receive anything, the fire chief said. Meanwhile, municipal taxes pay for the department’s fixed costs, such as attending to a property and using the equipment.

City council updated the fire safety bylaw in 2019. Under the insurance indemnification section, the bylaw says that the full hourly rate can be applied to any portion of an hour worked. That rate is based on the current SGI fire suppression policy productive call rate; right now, it is $962.17 per hour.

If homeowners make a claim, Fire Marque sends them an invoice because the company wants to be upfront that the fire department responded to their property, Montgomery said. Fire Marque looks after everything since it is the insurance expert and has the time to look through policies. 

The fire chief added that the money the department receives from Fire Marque goes into training, to upgrade equipment, and to enhance fire services.

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