Firefighters thin - some home insurance rates skyrocket

Madera County, specifically Eastern Madera County, is in the middle of dealing with a substantial change in regards to the fire protection and availability of fire staff to adequately meet the increasing demands of our growing population.

Along with that, insurance agents, their companies, and the underwriters they use are in the middle of an emergency situation that immediately impacts homeowners and almost every aspect of real estate - including renters.

The national private company commonly known as ISO which stands for the Insurance Services Office, did a full review of Madera County’s fire service last fall. The ISO will annually contact the Madera County Fire Marshal’s Office to request any changes of infrastructure or new equipment or funding to annually update the information available to their customers - the insurance companies. The full review is commonly done every 5-10 years and spans most fire service providers nation-wide.

Madera County’s turn started June of 2014 and took the ISO representative four months to complete. ISO requested training records and roster numbers of all paid call fire fighters, call volume and log reports, 911 dispatch center information along with fire engine specifics and tools carried on those engines. The Madera County Fire Department staff provided detailed reports of the numbers of firefighters on a fire scene and the numerous training hours firefighters accomplished. Unfortunately the review did not turn out to the county’s favor.

Our rosters have decreased due to many factors and the people able to respond to an emergency incident is currently pretty low. National and state OSHA/Cal-OSHA standards require a determined number of staff be on scene to be able to adequately and safely attack a structure fire.

Initial responses from individual engine companies (one fire station) needs to be at a predetermined level to be adequate. Some stations in the county were unable to meet that criteria. Several fire stations throughout our area are now “unrecognized,” essentially non-existent to insurance providers.

This review may have a debilitating effect on home and business owners throughout the county. Insurance premiums may drastically increase if the owner’s insurance company uses ISO for risk determination.

The Madera County Board of Supervisors, county administrative office, fire chief, and all fire staff are actively working towards both immediate and long range plans of action to help remedy this situation.

Fire staff has requested the original ISO representative return and meet to double check areas where we were rated below standard. ISO has fully agreed and is eager to assist.

The Madera County Board of Supervisors has requested informational gatherings, and public meetings to figure the best course of action while still attempting to bridge a budget deficit.

Public input is sought after and appreciated during this difficult time. Our supervisors are well aware that people are affected, and their stories deserve to be heard.

Ron Eldridge, our Cal Fire Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit Chief, wants the public to know that the Madera County Fire Department is committed to providing the highest level of fire protection to its citizens. With the current input from ISO, the Chief said we will be looking at all alternatives to raise the current level of service to keep pace with the increasing demands for staffing, aging equipment replacement, and infrastructure placed on the department now and into the future. All of these issues have a direct cause and effect on homeowner insurance costs.

Madera County Board of Supervisor’s meeting schedules are available at, under the Board of Supervisors web page or by calling 311. All options including sales tax measures, zones of benefit, personnel sharing, and station consolidations are all ideas that will be reviewed.

If you have questions or concerns about how this may affect you or your property, contact the Madera County Fire Marshal’s Office by either utilizing 311 or (559) 661-5190. You may also reach me at deborah.keenan@