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Can a fire district lose their insurance coverage? Do bears poop in the woods?

The more we get jammed up, the more we lose organizational trust, public trust ... and insurance coverage

Selective focus of magnifying glass,glasses and Insurance Policy letter on a white wooden background.

Put yourself in the CEO seat of an insurance provider; would YOU cover your department?

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Check out this quote from a recent FireRescue1 article about a fire district whose insurance group is no longer interested in protecting them because they appear to have little interest in protecting themselves:

“The increase in claims against the fire district ‘raises serious concerns about the fire district’s ability or willingness to protect itself’ from future claims, underwriting manager Chris Hill said in a letter to the district.”

Essentially, the insurer won’t cover future worker-related claims against the fire district due to a “significant increase in the frequency and severity” of claims already filed. The district is now scrambling to find private employment practice liability insurance, which is expected to cost more. The fire district already faces whistleblower and wrongful termination lawsuits from its recently ousted fire chief, a sexual harassment and hostile work environment lawsuit from three former employees, and other hostile work environment claims.

For full disclosure, I’m not a huge fan of home/auto insurance companies. All I do is pay and pay. To be clear, I am not a fan until I need insurance companies. Sound familiar? “WHY DO WE PAY SUCH HIGH TAXES FOR OUR FIRE DEPARTMENT?! BECAUSE YOU WILL BE GLAD YOU PAID TAXES WHEN YOU NEED THEM. Hmmm. OK. But back to me. I get annoyed when my insurance rates go up just because I was speeding. Those bastards.

As an example, I was traveling northbound on I-71 in Kentucky a few months ago and was going 10 mph over the speed limit. And yes, there were cars passing me. So, with my cruise control set, I cruised. It wasn’t long before I saw blue lights flashing in my rearview mirror. So I stopped texting, finished shaving, brushed my hair, and put down my sandwich to pull over. Kidding! As the state trooper approached my car, I was fully expecting him to thank me for my service (I have a rear firefighter memorial license plate) or at the very worst, give me a warning and then thank me for my service.

I rolled down my window and he asked for the usual stuff, which I promptly gave him. I’m now sitting here thinking what else might be a problem. He walked back to my truck and handed me my stuff back along with a speeding ticket for going 10 mph over the speed limit. I didn’t say anything as he left – and I left. I was wondering if he had a bad day, if his girlfriend perhaps left him for a firefighter at some point (a fairly typical occurrence), but I was kind of taken aback by getting the ticket. That wasn’t the worst of it.

A week later, we got notified that because of that ONE SINGLE TICKET (the first in many, many years), my insurance rates are going up. Going up with a company that has insured me for decades. The last time our rates went up was after a storm tore part of our roof off and it had to be replaced – so the homeowner’s rates went up.

Here’s the deal. You pay and pay and pay your rates hoping you won’t need it. They make lots of profit. Then, you make a claim, and the rates go up so they can maintain their profit and cover the cost of your claim. Remember that they are a for-profit business. That’s how it works. I DO NOT like it, but that’s the reality.

So, what is the solution? Well in the case of the roof of my house, it was a storm and totally unavoidable. It was an act of God. However, in the case of my driving, don’t speed. Just do not speed. I may or may not like that but by speeding, I am taking a risk of a predictably higher rate of speed crash and a predictable ticket by a cop who gets angry at just the sight of any relatively nice-looking firefighter with a mustache that he could only dream of having. Or it may have something to do with his ex-girlfriend.

There are a million excuses, but the bottom line is that if I didn’t speed, there would be no ticket and the insurance rates would stay down.

There is very little difference with that fire district we spoke of earlier. You know what the rules and laws are, so don’t break them. As I read that last sentence back as I was reviewing this piece, it dawned on me that it read like an elementary school classroom sign: “If you don’t want to get in trouble, don’t break the rules.”

In 2023, lawlessness seems to be everywhere. Spend a few minutes watching the news, YouTube and TikToks of people doing bad things, and you’ll be amazed at how little people seem to care about rules and regulations. Sadly, in many areas, there are little to no consequences. That cannot be the fire department.

Specifically in relation to insurance, we spend day in and day out telling the public to prevent fires and learn CPR as a means of emergency preparedness or avoidance. We visit schools, senior citizens’ facilities and all the other places we go reminding people that “ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT FIRES,” and yet ….

  • How many fire stations don’t have working smoke and fire alarms?
  • How many don’t have fire sprinklers?
  • How many firefighters are smokers?
  • How many are obese?
  • How many don’t get physicals?
  • How many avoid cancer/medical screenings?
  • How many are “loosening up” background checks because “we just can’t find enough people to work here”?
  • How many departments observe new firefighters poorly performing in training/probation, knowing that they should not remain on the job?
  • How many agencies don’t take training seriously?
  • How many don’t have written, verified legal policies that members are fully trained on so the department limits everyone’s risk?
  • How many departments don’t have apparatus driver training requiring initial and ongoing training?
  • How many departments fail to train and qualify their officers on size-up, command, control and managing scene accountability?
  • How many fail to get their officer training on how to fairly and properly supervise their personnel in quarters?
  • How many have no way to gauge the performance of their members and officers?

Many fire departments (districts, companies etc.) operate as if they are on an island. They have little to no interest in what other fire departments are doing. After all, what we do HERE works for US. Until it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, all hell breaks loose, and everything comes to an organizational crawl because “now we have to deal with this crisis,” which is then followed by the often-private discussions asking how “this” was allowed in the first place.

Sometimes superiors ask that question. Sometimes attorneys ask the question. Sometimes citizens or fire department family members ask the question, but regardless, in 2023 and beyond, you can be sure it will be asked – and odds are there is probably a video of “it” happening many times before.

This is also when the insurance provider gets the call. We are in trouble and need their help! Of course, if there is a claim from time to time, that’s why we have insurance. They will help and they do. Sometimes bad situations are not avoidable, even when everything is in place. However, when a department fails to have systems in place that are based upon best and proven fire service practices, solid and verifiable policies and procedures, training on those things as well as enforcement and fair, trained and qualified supervision, we get jammed up. And the more we get jammed up, the more we lose organizational trust. Public trust. And insurance coverage.

In a final thought, put yourself in the CEO seat of the insurance provider. Now consider providing insurance to a fire department that is facing (among other issues) a whistleblower and wrongful termination suit from its recently ousted fire chief, sexual harassment and hostile work environment suits from three former employees and other related hostile work environment claims? The agency faces ongoing criminal inquiries into former and current employees for improper pension benefits and unchecked credit card spending as well as other alleged violations. Only a fool would insure them. It’s a pretty busy place with all those issues, but not the good kind of busy … and they are hardly alone.

And when it’s all said and done, whose money is being spent (wasted) on all this? Yep. Exactly.

Consider the phrase “being good stewards of the taxpayer’s money” as a day-to-day guideline, and there are predictably far fewer problems.

Chief Billy Goldfeder, EFO, a firefighter since 1973, serves as deputy fire chief of the Loveland-Symmes (Ohio) Fire Department. He also serves as Lexipol’s senior fire advisor and is a member of the Fire Chief/FireRescue1 Editorial Advisory Board. Goldfeder is a member of the Board of Directors for several organizations: the IAFC, the September 11th Families Association and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF). He also provides expert review assistance to the CDC NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program. Goldfeder is the recipient of numerous operational and administrative awards, appointments and recognitions. He has served on several NFPA and IAFC committees, has authored numerous articles and books, and presented several sessions at industry events. Chief Goldfeder co-hosts the website