Residents in Rural Ark. Community to Enjoy Low Fire-Insurance Rates

The 33 residents of the Holley Mountain Airpark in rural Van Buren County, Ark., enjoy a break on their home-insurance rates that most residents of cities around the state would envy: A Class 1 rating.

That rating, the highest possible on a scale from 1-10 as ranked by the New Jersey-based Insurance Services Office, was awarded to the Holley Mountain Airpark Volunteer Fire Department.

The rating puts the department in a class with only 54 other fire departments in the country, according to the Insurance Services Office, a private company that rates more than 46,000 fire departments in the nation for the insurance industry to help determine insurance rates.

And it makes the Holley Mountain Airpark volunteer groups – started 10 years ago with a single 1962 pumper truck and a few volunteers – the first Arkansas fire department to earn a top fire-insurance rating.

The ratings are based on a department’s ability to extinguish structure fires, judging from a number of categories, including equipment, manpower and the local water supply. Lower ratings mean lower fire insurance premiums and better fire protection.

“I think it is great,” said Fire Chief Jim Collom. “We feel like a winning team.”

The department provides coverage not only to the 33 residents of the 508-acre airpark, but also helps fight fires in an adjacent 19-square-mile area through mutual-aid agreements.

Collom said the rating won’t officially go into effect for insurance costs until Oct. 1. But the result then will be a savings between 50 percent and 70 percent in insurance costs for homeowners, he said.

“It is substantial. That is probably the best way to put it,” said Collom, who, along with his wife JoAnn, founded the Holley Mountain Airpark, a residential community for aviators on top of Holley Mountain near Clinton.

Peter Muller, a resident of the airpark and a volunteer with the department, said the Class 1 rating is good news for his insurance bill, but more importantly, provides him peace of mind.

“How many people can say they have a fire department with so many people that we almost have more people on the fire department than we have living in the airpark?” Muller asked. “It’s just a nice feeling when you are living in the middle of the forest on top of a mountain.”

Before the Holley Mountain department began, the nearest department to the airpark was Burnt Ridge Volunteer Fire Department in Shirley. With the area’s mountainous terrain, response times for fires from that department to Holley Mountain could be as long as 45 minutes.

Collom said he learned that the hard way.

“JoAnn and I had a fire in our house in 1996. We eventually got it put out with only $17,000 in damage … but it took 45 minutes for the response time,” Collom said. “Right then, I saw the need. I actually said, ‘I am going to buy a fire truck.’ I knew we needed it for our own protection.

Since the 1962 pumper was purchased, the department has grown to include 33 volunteers and a fleet of seven fire-response vehicles. To achieve the Class 1 rating, volunteers trained more than 10,000 hours over the course of two years, the department purchased several new vehicles, and the airpark developed a neighborhood water-delivery system, which includes a 190,000 water tank, Collom said.

Charles Gangluff, program manager for the Rural Fire Protection Program of the Arkansas Association of Resource Conservation & Development Councils, said it’s very rare for any department, much less a rural department, to achieve such a rating.

In Arkansas, only eight communities – including Little Rock and North Little Rock, have achieved a Class 2 rating – according to Insurance Services Office.

Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,