As of May 1, property owners within the Upper Pine River Fire Protection District could pay less for insurance.
That's because the district has secured a lower, meaning better, ISO rating that guides premiums for property insurance. The district got official notice on Jan. 23. ISO stands for Insurance Services Organization. It's a national industry group.
"We used to be 4, 6, 10," Chief Bruce Evans told the Times. Areas with fire hydrants were 4. Without hydrants were 6. Areas without hydrants and farther than five miles from a fire station were a 10.
Insurance is very expensive, if available at all, for properties with 10 rating. The only remaining 10 area in the district is above Lemon Reservoir, Evans said.
With the new ratings, the 4s will become 3s, and the 6s will become 4s. "I think it's a pretty big accomplishment for a rural department to drive their ISO down this low," and it was done without the district having to buy any new equipment, he added.
The lower ISO ratings take effect May 1. Property owners will have to ask their insurance agents for lower rates. They don't happen automatically.
The north end of Vallecito will be a 4 now that Upper Pine Station 4 has at least one person on duty there 24/7, Evans said. "We made a decision which is part of ISO (the rating process), of a risk analysis or standards of cover," which is sort of a bang-for-the-buck analysis. Working with the county's Geographic Information Systems map overlays, Upper Pine could see where homes are tucked away in the woods, thus where the need is.
"Last year we asked (county GIS) to produce a report on how many structures we have at the north end of Vallecito. That showed us that the north end is 70 structures short of being considered suburban density. We took all our District 4 boundaries (Pura Vida Cafe north) and counted structures on the GIS overlay. Our data was already showing that 40 percent of our structure fires were at the north end of the lake in 2016. By comparing our run data with our GIS data, we made the decision to put a full-time crew at the north end of the lake. You get points for that in the ISO rating."
While it has nothing to do with the ISO rating, Evans noted that a cardiac arrest victim benefited from this change on Feb. 13, "Eight minutes from when (his wife) called 911 and we shocked him and got a pulse back." Responders from Station 2 by the dam wouldn't have gotten there in time. The man was recovering at Mercy Medical Center, he said.
The ISO rating is all about insurance risk, Evans said. It uses a point scale from 1 to 100.
"They look at a lot of different aspects, such as building codes, the number of fire trucks, how much water we can haul, the number of fire hydrants, and also for the central dispatch center. ISO evaluates their performance and infrastructure and gives us credit."
He continued, "You get credit for the number of firefighters you have. The other is whether you have an updated fire code, within five years of the most current code. When the (Bayfield) town board passed the 2015 code in December, we got the highest amount of credits for that. It influenced the entire district rating, even though most of the district is in the county" outside town limits.
"You get credit for the deployment analysis where you put your staffing and equipment based on the risk" as was done north of Vallecito, he said.
"We got close to the maximum points for training," Evans said. "To get all those, you have to make sure all the officers have proper certifications. Last year we got 100 percent certified as Fire Officer I," including station captains. "We got maximum points for driver training, recruit training, standard operating procedures. That took us down to the 3, 4, 10 rating."
Everything with fire hydrants is a 3, including in rural areas - Forest Lakes and parts of the district that have La Plata/Archuleta Water District lines. "With that extended through Gem Village, I think it will help with property values and development in Gem Village," he said.
"Everything else is a 4 except north of Lemon," Evans said. "Where it has the biggest impact is Gem Village and business on the north end of Vallecito. It has more impact on commercial property."
He said, "The good news is, with us having a lower rating than the neighboring (fire) districts, if I was looking to build a commercial establishment, getting insurance here may be cheaper than in our neighboring jurisdictions. If you aren't depending on walk-in traffic, it could make sense in Gem Village, Bayfield, or even Vallecito."
Upper Pine staff met on Feb. 16 with property owners in the Lemon area, including Aspen Trails and Sierra Verde Estates. "We probably need a station at the north end of Lemon," Evans said. "Property owners are paying $2,500 to $5,000 a year for insurance. ... We've created a District 9 for Lemon to track calls better" and determine the need.
Evans wants to look into annexing some properties just across the Archuleta County Line that are within five miles of Station 8 at Deer Valley.
A resident in the Shamrock subdivision just east of the county line approached the district about four years ago, he said. "We included all 13 of those homeowners, and they have a lower rating. They are already in. If we go up the highway, there are probably another 15 properties. They would go from 10 to 4. Up to the top of Yellowjacket Pass. We'd consider a flagpole annexation along the highway and offer it to homeowners if they want to come in. ... That area isn't in the Pagosa Fire District."
Upper Pine already responds into Archuleta County on mutual aid requests from the fire or emergency medical districts, Evans said.
The Feb. 17 Times included a 2016 annual report produced in-house by Upper Pine staff with all sorts of information about the district and its functions.