City extends contract with fire company
Sudbury Star

Despite allegations of double-dipping, city council has voted to continue its relationship with Fire Marque for the next five years.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the finance committee, councillors approved a revenue-generating strategy the city has established with Fire Marque Inc. to recover some of the costs associated with fighting fire.

The resolution, that “the City of Greater Sudbury approves the sole source of a revenue-generating contract for services from Fire Marque Inc. who, through its intellectual property, is able to recover insurance costs on behalf of fire services by invoicing insurance companies for costs of fire department attendance with respect to insured perils,” was endorsed by everyone except Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier and Ward 2 Coun Michael Vagnini.

As Jesse Oshell, deputy fire chief, explained, the city has had a relationship with Fire Marque since January 2016. Tuesday’s motion was simply a vote on continuing that partnership. As noted in a staff report, 105 communities across Canada have enlisted the services of Fire Marque.

“Fire Marque goes out and does the querying and polls the insurance underwriters for the proper coverage, and if the funds are available, then it recovers those funds,” Oshell said. “It does not apply to individuals who don’t make an insurance claim. … It’s all based on them making a claim. … If there’s no claim, we do not recover any funds.”

Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan wanted assurances that dealing with Fire Marque would not affect the insurance premiums of his constituents, and that there is no double-dipping involved.

“I’m getting a number of constituents who see this requirement to claim this amount on their insurance as a double charge to them for a fire,” Kirwan said.

Joseph Nicholls, the city’s GM of community safety, said the arrangement the city has with the company is quite common. It is really intended to allow fire services to recover costs for the services rendered in fighting a fire, Nicholls explained. It is only enacted after a homeowner makes a fire claim and as it is a pre-existing part of their insurance,“they’ve already paid for the insurance to pay out these costs,” he said.

Eric Labelle, the city clerk, said the arrangement is a fairly standard component of most home insurance policies. He also pointed out that according to the Municipal Act, cities can charge and collect user fees.

“I think your answer to your constituents would be that the city has a number of services it funds through the levy — the collection of property taxes — and through the collection of user fees,” Labelle said. “This is a service where there’s a potential to collect a partial recovery of that cost as a user fee.”

Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo, chair of the finance committee, pointed out while the bill is invoiced to the homeowner, it is the insurance company who pays the city.

Montpellier said he would never support anything that is based on a sole-source contract. He also said double billing is a problem.

“Some citizens have been stuck with the bill when the insurance wouldn’t do it,” he said.

In March 2017, Gord and Mona Rowe were billed more than $4,000 after a fire broke out in their home while they were away.

A neighbour noticed smoke billowing from the side of their Coniston home just a day after they left for their Caribbean vacation.

“The neighbour told us in approximately five minutes the volunteer fire department from Coniston showed up,” Rowe said at the time. “Two firefighters entered the house — they had to break down the front door.”

The fire was extinguished almost immediately, but there was massive smoke damage to the home. The Rowes claimed about $200,000 and had to replace virtually all of their belongings. More than 1,000 pieces of clothing were sent for dry-cleaning.

In May 2017, their insurer, Allstate Insurance, received a bill from Fire Marque for $4,186.14 for four units and 12 volunteer firefighters totalling 37 man hours. Rowe also received a letter on May 29, 2017, as well as in July and August of that year.

On Feb. 9, 2018, the Rowes received another letter from Fire Marque telling them the amount owing was still outstanding, but to seek reimbursement from their insurer (The Star originally spoke with the couple in March 2018). Rowe was advised to pay the city directly.

“We genuinely regret that your adjuster, Louis Bottigoni of Allstate Insurance, has chosen not to pay the outstanding invoice to Fire Marque Inc.,” the company wrote to Rowe. “You’ll be receiving an official invoice from the City of Greater Sudbury outlining the amount of $4,186.14 has been placed on your property tax roll as per section 398(2) of the Municipal Act. It is your responsibility to request payment from Allstate Insurance and it is your responsibility to pay the city of Greater Sudbury.”

Rowe argued taxes should cover the cost of the fire-fighting service.

“In my taxes, there is coverage for fire,” he told The Star. “I’m already paying through my taxes that I pay monthly.”

As Montpellier pointed out Tuesday, insurance never loses.

“When your premiums come up next time after your claim, they will not be the same as they were. In fact, you may actually be denied,” he said. “Nobody kid yourself, this is an additional bill to the insurance.”

Nicholls said he was not aware of any insurance policies getting more expensive “strictly because of these funds.” Oshell reiterated the intention is not to charge homeowners out-of-pocket, but to recover costs.

“This is simply going after the funds that are available, that the insurance company has set aside for prevention, education and suppression, on top of anything else that is done by the community,” Oshell said.

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