1924: Richmond at Odds with Fire Insurance Firm

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1924: Richmond at Odds with Fire Insurance Firm


Two-thirds of a century ago, back in 1924, the City of Richmond had a running fuss with an insurance company regarding fire insurance rates for, of all things, the fire department itself. In December 1917, the city had obtained a $2,500 five-year policy on the fire department building and its contents from the Dan Breck insurance agency for an annual premium of $180. At that time the fire department, which was located next door to the Miller House on Irvine Street, consisted of a hose wagon, a day and night driver of the wagon, volunteer firemen, and a team of horses. No streets in Richmond were blacktopped, and the water pressure at the fire hydrants was 75 pounds per square inch. It was a common occurance for the team of fire horses to be sick with distemper or respiratory congestion, and there had been times when it was necessary to hitch up the horse and mule of the street department to the hose wagon to answer a fire call. In an effort to improve fire protection and to reduce fire insurance rates in the city, on May 1, 1918, the city discarded the horse-drawn hose wagon and purchased at a cost of $7,200 a "Type 40 Combination Chemical, Engine, Hose Wagon and Junior Pump" vehicle manufactured by the American LaFrance Fire Engine Co. As I remember, this was a 1916 model fire truck with a big engine in it that had little valves at the top of each cylinder where a bit of gasoline could be poured in to prime the engine if necessary. Additionally, one and a half miles of streets were paved with asphalt, the total of fire hose was increased to 1,800 feet, and an arrangement with the water company was made to increase the fire hydrant pressure to 105psl. Before the purchase of the fire truck, a representative of the State Fire Marshall in Frankfort estimated to Mayor William O'Neal that the new equipment would reduce the insurance rates for the city by 10 to 30 percent. Imagine the surprise in December 1922, when the fire department policy was renewed for another five years, on the same building, by the same insurance company. Instead of a reduction in rates, the city was actually charged a premium of $194, some $14 more than before the new fire equipment was purchased! The city fathers fussed about it for a while, and then after March 1, 1923, when fire insurance rates for Richmond did go down, they demanded a rebate on the remaining portion of the five-year policy. Mayor O'Neil wrote to State Auditor H. M. Bosworth, voicing the complaint against the insurance company. "City Entitled to Insurance Refund," stated a headline in the March 13, 1924 issue Richmond Daily Register. The State Auditor explained that the fire insurance rate of $1.94 had been in effect in 1922, when the five-year policy was bought. After March 1, 1923, a new rate of $1.68 was established, based upon the improvements made in the firefighting equipment. The company claimed that the five-year contract was signed by the city authorities, and that that premium agreed upon should remain for the five-year period. But the State Auditor stated that the city was entitled to have the lower rate for that part of the contract after March 1, 1923. The refund? It amounted to $24.


Dr. Robert Grise




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Dr. Robert Grise, “1924: Richmond at Odds with Fire Insurance Firm,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed June 15, 2024, https://madisonsheritage.eku.edu/items/show/927.