01/14/2014 10:42 EST | Updated 03/16/2014 05:59 EDT

Decline in volunteer firefighters drives up home insurance

A shortage of volunteer firefighters across B.C. could lead to dramatically higher fire insurance premiums for homeowners, according to a newly published Fire Underwriters Survey.

The survey, which insurance companies use to base their annual rates, evaluates various communities’ ability to fight fires. It found that dozens of B.C. communities do not meet the minimum number of firefighters to mitigate risk for insurers.

Residents of Sooke, B.C., for instance, have been told their fire insurance premiums could increase by an average of $1,400 next year. The story is similar across the province, where three quarters of B.C. towns have volunteer departments and recruitment is a growing problem.

"There is a trend in Canada that volunteerism is on a downward spiral, particularly with respect to fire departments, because fire departments are becoming a little bit more diligent in how they are operated,” says Michael Currie, the survey’s director.

In the past, says Currie, locals would sign up on a volunteer basis to “just fight fires and be the hero.”

“Fifty years ago, fire departments were operated more like a community club," he says.

But now, “they're finding more and more what they're actually doing is administrating a department; there's a lot of paperwork and stuff that's not as fun."

Currie says his organization will begin posting its ratings for all communities in B.C. so they can see what they can do to improve the risk and help lower fire insurance premiums.