Horror stories abound of residents — mainly in rural areas — calling their local fire department for an emergency and ending up with a hefty bill as the trucks pull out of their driveway.
Most Canadian cities and towns fund fire departments through their municipal budgets. Every time residents pay their property taxes, they’re automatically covering the cost of firefighter salaries, equipment, and fuel should a fire break out at their home.
However, in some municipalities, residents pay fees for fire service in addition to their property taxes, such as in Alberta’s Lacombe County.
These costs vary depending on where you live. But how do they impact your home insurance coverage?
Does home insurance cover fire department fees?
Suzanne Pountney, commercial lines manager at Ontario West Insurance Brokers in London, says home insurance will cover fire department deployment costs.
“Virtually every insurance policy, whether it’s commercial or personal, has some provision for payment of fire department fees,” she says.
Deployment fees on their own can be hundreds of dollars. But firefighting costs can quickly add up. In one notable case in Alberta’s Beaver County, about 120 kilometres east of Edmonton, a couple ended up paying more than $50,000 after a fire in April 2021. The Beaver Region Emergency Services Commission had a fee structure that required property owners to pay for a portion of firefighting costs — and the couple’s home insurance covered only $10,000.
Firefighting fees can vary drastically from region to region. How a local municipality sets up its fee structure, the remoteness of a particular area, and the cost of operating the local fire department can all play a role. (In many rural areas, fire departments are entirely volunteer run, in contrast to the all-professional forces seen in larger towns and cities).
If you don’t pay those fees, Pountney says your home insurance policy would still cover both the fire damage and fire department costs — though exactly how much coverage you’ll get will vary from policy to policy.
Will my home insurance rate be affected by firefighting fees?
While insurance companies may cover most firefighting fees, Pountney says the process can still affect a person’s home insurance rates. “If you live in a municipality where those fees are charged, and insurance companies have to pay them out — that increases how much the insurance company is paying out every year,” she says. In turn, insurance companies may charge higher premiums to recoup that loss.
In cases where a fire department is called to an incident with little damage, Pountney says a municipality that collects a firefighting fee might cost a client their claims-free home insurance discount, even if there isn’t any damage.
What is clear: fire department fees are paid after a call is complete, not before. Pountney compares it to the costs for ambulance rides where a patient gets a ride to the hospital, receives the bill, and then (if possible) makes a claim for it to be covered under their medical insurance.
She says there isn’t much a consumer can do if they happen to live in a municipality with a fire department fee model.
“If you have a fire, you have a fire,” Pountney says, “and you’re going to call the fire department. The consequences of that action [can] vary by where you live. You might get a bill, you might not — but you might want to find out beforehand.”
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