HOUSTON – In the serious business of fighting fires, job one is getting a lot of water on the blaze.
Houston, Woodland, Rhodes Chapel, Van Vleet, Thorn and Houlka fire departments held a practice water test Thursday night with the goal of calling in the State Insurance Commission to run a certified test that could reduce insurance rates for homeowners.
“This is a practice run to work out the kinks and to make sure everyone knows what we are doing,” said Chief Curt Jernigan, of the Houston Volunteer Fire Department. “If we can successfully pass a water test some people outside the city limits will see fire rating drop and insurance rates drop along with it.”
Thursdays’ drill saw tankers, pumpers and volunteer firefighters gather at Dixieland east of Houston to practice. The goal is to transport approximately 30,000-gallons of water 1-1/2 miles and pump 500 gallons a minute continuously for one hour.
“We used the parking lot at Dixieland and drafted water from Traceview Lake,” said Jernigan. “We’ve got a good group of volunteers and once everyone knows their job, they can do it.”
Tanker trucks made the circuit from the lake where they picked up water to the parking lot where it was off loaded in a yellow portable canvas dump tank.
Thursday’s exercise was not without problems. One tanker saw its air brakes lock up when it lost air pressure, there was a real fire call in Houlka that prompted Houlka and Thorn to respond with their personnel and trucks and then it rained.
“These things happen at a real fire, too,” said Jernigan. “Volunteer firefighters are used to dealing with problems like this and working around them.”
Rhodes Chapel VFD Chief Eddie Wiggs said their department has done this twice.
“We did one of them at an industry west of Houston and two weeks later it caught on fire and we were able to save everything except the main building where the fire started,” said Wiggs. “The first time we tested the goal was 250-gallons-a-minute to get a Class 9 fire rating. We did the 500-gallon test and got a Class 8.”
Jernigan pointed out there are gaps just outside of Houston and between Houston, Houlka and outlying volunteer fire departments that some insurance companies don’t recognize.
“Some insurance companies say they are covered and give a discount,” said Jernigan. “Other insurance companies say you aren’t covered and charge a higher premium.”
A fire test would settle the issue for most homeowners and insurance companies since most house fires only require from 5,000 to 6,000-gallons to extinguish.
“That’s where State Insurance Commission water test comes in,” said Jernigan. “We prove we can get a lot of water on the blaze and they turn around and give a better fire rating that can really reduce the cost of insuring a home in a rural area.”
Jernigan said the actual fire test would probably be conducted in late September or early October. Once paperwork is submitted and properly filed, rates could go down as early as the first of the year.
“Twenty years ago when we first started talking about volunteer fire departments, the goal was to get insurance ratings to an eight,” said Jernigan. “If we can successfully complete this water test, it will go a long way to making that happen.”
Residents within five miles of the Van Vleet, Thorn, Woodland and Rhodes Chapel volunteer fire departments are currently under a Class 8 rating.