A second, county-run fire station is expected to bring additional safety and reduced insurance costs to hundreds of folks in the Hubert and Stella communities.

Residents living near the former Swansboro EMS Volunteer Rescue Squad station at 3753 Freedom Way will be brought into a newly created fire district when Onslow County opens up the first-responder station, which will be called Freedom Way Fire Station.

However, owners of some commercial properties will likely see an increase in fire insurance costs.

For the past several years the area has been under the watch of Swansboro Fire Department through an agreement with Onslow County Emergency Management Services.

The opening date is uncertain, according to Onslow County Emergency Management Services Fire Rescue Division Head Chris Hunt.

In addition to Hunt’s title with EMS, the Swansboro Heights resident will be the fire chief for the Freedom Way Fire Station. Hunt is the current fire chief at the former Bear Creek Fire Department, which became a county-run fire station in February 2016.

“We are currently waiting for the State Fire Marshal’s Office to perform an inspection that is necessary to recognize the station as a fire department,” Hunt stated in an email response to questions submitted by Tideland News.

While Hunt did not have an exact number of households and businesses currently situated in the proposed fire district, county officials believe several hundred dwellings will see a reduction in their insurance costs.

Property insurance rates are based in large part by the Insurance Services Office rating or simply called, “the ISO rating.” An ISO fire insurance rating, also referred to as a fire score or Public Protection Classification, is a score from 1 to 10 that indicates how well-protected your community is by the fire department. In the ISO rating scale, a lower number is better: 1 is the best possible rating, while a 10 means the fire department did not meet the ISO’s minimum requirements. A high rating means higher property insurance premiums.

Currently, many properties in the Freedom Way district are saddled with the highest ISO rating, a 10 and subsequently are paying higher premiums to insure their properties.

Hunt’s analysis of area shows promise for homeowners.

“Upon our assessment, approximately 691 homes will see a reduction in their fire insurance premiums to an estimated savings of over $900,000,” he stated in the email. “This number was based on the number of homes being absorbed into the new district and having an average home value of $200,000.”

Onslow County residents Christopher and Gillian Behn live on Liana Place in the Peytons Ridge subdivision, 1.3 miles from the soon-to-be opened Freedom Way Fire Station. Standing in front of his 2,974 square-foot home, Behn said he was “thrilled” to learn his insurance rates could decrease once the station is open. The couple purchased their Peytons Ridge home in April 2016, according to Onslow County Tax Office records. They only recalled one instance in which a home in their community caught fire. “It was before the hurricane (Florence) and the family was displaced,” said Gillian.

For residential customers, the situation is a “win-win,” according to Mark Tessing, chief of the Swansboro Fire Department.

“If things go well, they’ll go down to a 6,” Tessing said.

But, he added, for some of the commercial customers in the current SFD-covered district, a 6 will mean an increase in the fire insurance rate.

“For businesses on Seth Thomas Lane,” for example, “rates will go up. Right now, that will be a 5 rating going to a 6. It will mean in increase of about 10 percent.

“Any commercial property that we covered will go up to a 6.”

Freedom Way will be a substation of Bear Creek Fire Department, which the county took over a few years ago in the midst of a lack of volunteers, according to Tessing. “Volunteers are going to be hard to find.”

The station will operate around the clock with a blend of paid and volunteer staffing, according to Hunt.

“Currently we have one full-time and two part-time paid staff with the additional full-time position coming soon,” he stated. “There is one fire engine, one rescue truck, one quick-response vehicle. We would love to ask the citizens in this new district and surrounding areas to come see about volunteering with us and helping out your community and neighbors.”

Paid staff will work week days and volunteers will be on call nights and weekends, according to Tessing.

The former Swansboro Rescue Squad building became available when the county ceased contracting with the rescue squad early this year.

“The county had an opportunity to acquire the assets of the former Swansboro Rescue Squad. By placing fire apparatus at this station it allowed the county to provide fire protection at a decreased rate and for some actual rated fire protection for the first time ever,” Hunt stated.

The addition of a functioning fire station just down the road from Swansboro will relieve the load for the Swansboro Fire Department. Even so, the county has no intention of reducing the funding it provides to Swansboro, according to Hunt.

Tessing said SFD, which has paid personnel, had attempted to merge with the rescue squad and turn the building into an SFD substation. Funded primarily through town taxes, the SFD would have needed a great financial commitment from the county in order to pull that off. The county chose to acquire the rescue squad assets instead.

“There will be no change to operational expenses given to Swansboro in the current county budget,” he said. Hunt said Swansboro received $193,445 in the 2019-20 fiscal year budget. Fiscal year budgets run from July 1 through June 30.

What will happen in the 2020-21 fiscal year is open for speculation, according to Tessing.

“We don’t know yet,” he said of the county funding. “I imagine it’s going to have some impact.”

There are currently 15 volunteer fire departments in Onslow plus two departments outside of the Onslow County that provide service on a contractual basis. The total expenditures for VFDs in Onslow County in the current FY 2019-20 budget year is $3.2 million, according to Hunt.

Contact Mike McHugh at (910) 326-5066.

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