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Back to the future

06 Nov 2017

Fire services originally started with insurers running their own brigades, hence the fire levy on insurance today.  In the US some insurers are returning to this model.

Insurers, like Chubb, are going the extra mile for select policyholders by sending in private firefighters to deal with wildfire threats before they become a problem.

Insurer-provided wildfire mitigation services, while nothing new, have been making waves lately following the recent California fires. The extra service is getting so popular, that homeowners who had witnessed their neighbours’ homes being protected by private firefighters were inspired to purchase their own policies to enjoy the same benefits, some insurers said.

“The enrolment has taken off dramatically over the years as people have seen us save homes,” Chubb senior executive Paul Krump told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s absolutely growing leaps and bounds.”

Dick Fredericks, founding partner of Main Management Fund Advisors LLC in San Francisco and a former US ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, was one of the fortunate homeowners in Sonoma whose properties were saved by private firefighters.

“The fire was so pervasive,” Fredericks said. “As a homeowner you want to try everything to save your home, and the first responders can’t be everywhere at once. The fact that Chubb supplemented an unbelievable effort by the first responders is probably what saved our home.”

Fredericks received a phone call from a private firefighting outfit working with Chubb, informing him that his home had been saved from fire. He also received an email with some two dozen pictures of firefighters extinguishing a bush fire on his property.

Chubb’s Wildfire Defense Services, created in 2008, are offered in 15 states. AIG also has an analogous outfit, the Wildfire Protection Unit, created in 2005 that currently serves 385 ZIP codes. Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange (PURE) and USAA also have similar private firefighting services.

The Wall Street Journal reported that about tens of thousands of people benefit from the programs. To receive the benefit, policyholders have to pay anywhere from thousands of dollars in annual premiums to over $100,000, depending on the number and types of homes and/or possessions being insured.

Consumer advocates, however, are not too keen about the programs, which seemingly benefit only those with the money to spend.

“Do we like the idea of a two-tier system for wealthy individuals and people with less means? No,” commented United Policyholders executive director Amy Bach.

But even consumer advocates have to admit that there is good work being done through private firefighting services.

“But do we want to see their approaches work? Yes,” Bach added.


 - Insurance Business

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