RICE TWP. — It all comes down to insurance.
Township residents are concerned homeowners’ premiums will spike because the township supervisors have decertified their fire department and are working toward a contract with Wright Township Fire Department.
Rice Township Volunteer Fire Department, officially decertified at a Tuesday night meeting, needs insurance to continue operating and can’t get certain coverage without the help of the township that just dropped it.
Paul Eyerman, chief of the Rice Township department, said he got a call from secretary/treasurer Don Armstrong Tuesday night informing him that the insurance for all fire trucks is to be immediately suspended.
Stating they must do their best to ensure the township’s safety, township supervisors voted 2-1 to decertify the department. Supervisors Miller Stella Jr. and George Venesky voted “yes” to decertify. Marcia Thomas voted “no.”
The department owns the equipment and the station property. The volunteers could respond to a call if they have the proper insurances, including workers’ compensation in case a firefighter gets hurt on the scene and liability insurance for the fire trucks and building.
Eyerman said they have contacted several workers’ compensation insurers and learned that this insurance is available only through the municipality.
“We checked with some insurance agents. No fire department pays (its own) workers’ compensation,” Eyerman said.
Rice and Wright townships will have to pitch in to pay workers’ compensation insurance for the Wright Township department. The expense will be taken from Rice Township’s monthly $2,500 as part of a seven-year contract with Wright Township Fire Department.
Liability and property insurers have been notified of Rice Township’s decertification. Eyerman said they are pursuing other options for building and vehicle insurance, which will be the first step in achieving a successful merger with Wright Township.
At the Tuesday meeting, residents claimed they would see their homeowners insurance rise significantly because the department is closing.
If a home is beyond five roadway miles from a fire department, it is considered unprotected by fire services, and Ray Staudenmeier, of Staudenmeier Insurance in Wilkes-Barre Township, said there are some companies that will not cover an unprotected home.
Staudenmeier gave an example of a homeowner with a $1,000 annual premium whose property sits in a protected area. If that area’s protection classification changes, because of lack of close fire protection or if the nearest fire department loses a truck or all of its manpower, that property could move to a semi-protected or unprotected status, he said.
Protection classifications are set by the Insurance Services Office.