Dozens of Sooke residents could see their home insurance skyrocket because of a shortage of volunteer firefighters.
Residents in Saseenos and North Sooke will have their fire protection status for home insurance downgraded to “unprotected” next year, unless the District of Sooke can find a way to bolster its volunteer fire hall in the area, the municipality warned this week.
“It means your insurance will double,” said Fire Chief Steve Sorensen. That could add $1,400 a year to home insurance rates for an average home, he said.
Sooke has begun sending letters to homeowners explaining the issue.
The problem is the result of a shortage of volunteer firefighters at Sooke’s No. 2 fire station on Goodridge Road, which services the north area of the district.
Sooke needs to show at least four volunteer firefighters available at any time of the day or night, Sorensen said. But currently, its No. 2 station is suffering an all-time low and can only average between one and two firefighters during the day, the chief said.
“The biggest problem is I don’t have any daytime people,” Sorensen said.
The department can still respond to calls safely, and draws firefighters from its other station, but the staff shortage means North Sooke is registered as “unprotected” in the Fire Underwriters Survey, which is used by home insurance companies to set rates.
“They’ve given us one year to try to work this out,” Sorensen said. The grace period means at least a year before insurance rates would rise.
In the meantime, the fire department said it would try another recruitment drive, encouraging anyone who works in Sooke, is in reasonably good health, has a driver’s licence and is available during the day to volunteer.
“We’ll train them and supply all the gear,” Sorensen said.
It used to be easy to find volunteers in that part of Sooke, he said. But a nearby mill closed, the population aged and waterfront property values rose, he said.
“The people that are still there have gotten much older and are outside the volunteer firefighter age group,” he said.
One option is to staff the No. 2 fire hall with paid full-time firefighters, but that would cost more than $100,000 per person, Sorensen said.
“We, quite frankly, can’t afford additional career staff,” said Sooke Mayor Wendal Milne. That would raise taxes for the entire district, he said. “You either pay it in taxes or in home insurance,” he said of the firefighter shortage.
If it can’t find volunteers, Milne said, Sooke will have to look at “reshuffling” its existing resources, which include four paid full-time firefighters at its primary station.