Fire department cancels ‘Your Call’ program, sees worsening fire protection rating

Fire district officials recently announced two changes that may affect some islanders financially.

Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR) has discontinued its membership program, Your Call, created to offset islanders’ costs of ambulance transport to area hospitals. Additionally, the Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau recently downgraded the fire protection rating for islanders at the far north and south ends of Vashon and the southern half and eastern edge of Maury Island. This change could mean an increase in those islanders’ homeowners’ insurance premiums.

To help offset patient costs when they began charging for ambulance transports last year, VIFR officials created Your Call, patterned after Airlift Northwests’ AirCare program. For an annual fee, Your Call participants would not have to pay for transports beyond what insurance covered. However, the state’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner recently reviewed the program after receiving an anonymous complaint, deemed it insurance and ordered the district to stop offering it.

Chief Charlie Krimmert said he was disappointed, as the district’s legal counsel and state auditors believed the AirCare model was appropriate for the district to provide.

“We believe it is a valuable program for the community and has value for the district as well,” Krimmert said.

A recent statement from the district on its website indicated people who had purchased pro-rated subscription plans from May 2017 to May 2018 had their memberships honored. Others will be issued refunds for their memberships in July. The statement also indicates that VIFR hopes to bring a revised program back in the future.

“Vashon Island Fire & Rescue is proud to have been able to lead the way by creating this program and will continue to investigate a means to modify the program so as to bring such a cost savings back to our community,” it states.

The next change, with possible implications for those who live in some of the islands’ most far-flung areas, has occurred because of the attrition of the district’s volunteer core. Officials with the rating bureau evaluated the fire district earlier this year, the first time since 2014. According to Assistant Chief Bob Larsen, the island is still rated a 5, on a scale where a low rating is better, but some areas are now designated as high as 9. The change, Larsen said, is that the affected people live more than 5 miles from a staffed fire station. During the previous review of the island’s rating, the district had volunteers who lived within that distance to both the Dockton and Tahlequah fire stations. Without those members, those stations are now considered unstaffed and the new rating was made accordingly.

The new scores on Vashon went into effect June 1. The full report is available at VIFR.org.

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