The Wisconsin Arson Insurance Council
On March 10, 1980, the Wisconsin Arson Insurance Council (WAIC) was formed at a meeting held at the Allstate Insurance Company Regional Office in Brookfield, WI. WAIC was formed to promote communication and cooperation between fire and police departments, insurance organizations, law firms, district attorney offices, the Wisconsin Department of Justice, and any other person or organization with an interest in combating arson in Wisconsin.
The idea for WAIC had been growing in the minds of Bill Lundy, Gene Alli, Jim Rolando, Don Jensen, Ken Kenney, and Patricia Voeltner for about a year. This stemmed from concerns about the number of suspicious and undetermined fires in Wisconsin and the lack of cooperation, communication, and even understanding between the public and private sectors. Previously, some local groups had recognized this problem and had formed, but WAIC was the first such organization to establish a state-wide organization.
WAIC sought to create a continuing education program and improve the control and prevention of arson on a state-wide basis. Over the years a multitude
of agencies, companies, groups, and organizations have provided meeting facilities, printing, training, materials, and personnel to promote WAIC's goals.
Education & Training
For the first 20 years WAIC held meetings on the 3rd Wednesday of each month at the New Berlin Fire Department. The meetings included an educational speaker and provided a chance to network. Education chair Will Tingue (Milwaukee Police Dept. and Unitrin Insurance) arranged the speakers. New Berlin Fire Dept. Chief Bob Heck always made sure that for $5.00 members who attended these meetings could buy a catered lunch. The April 19, 1995 meeting was interrupted by news of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
In the 80's and early 90's WAIC sponsored a number of "hands on" training opportunities where students investigated actual fires set in buildings destined for demolition. WAIC members served as instructors at these schools, where students determined the origin and cause of the fire.
WAIC was a yearly contributor to the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) seminar in Stevens Point. WAIC currently offers scholarships for Wisconsin fire,and law enforcement personnel to attend fire investigation training.
Posters & Publicity
WAIC has provided thousands of Arson Hotline posters to fire departments and law enforcement agencies to post at the scene of suspected arsons. These posters list the Hotline phone number and offer an award for information about the fire.
The posters have gone through several revisions over the years. The original Hotline poster was printed on heavyweight, ledger size paper. Although it carried the necessary information, there were a few problems. These posters weren't weatherproof, so they didn't hold up well; and the Hotline number was too small to be read unless you were pretty close. The current version is much larger, and is printed with UV resistant ink on plastic stock. In 2003 WAIC introduced a Spanish version of the poster.
In the 80's WAIC distributed bumper stickers and it was common to see Fire Trucks bearing the Red, White, and Black WAIC logo. In the mid 1980's the HOTLINE was featured on several billboards throughout the City of Milwaukee.
At various times the HOTLINE and WAIC have been featured in various Public Service Announcements on television and radio. More recently, WAIC produced refrigerator magnets and bar coasters bearing the HOTLINE phone number. As with all WAIC materials, these too are offered free of charge to fire and law enforcement agencies.
Of course any organization needs to keeps its members informed, and WAIC has always produced a newsletter. WAIC archives contain copies of most of the Hotline, newsletters. The editions from WAIC's early years were printed on a mimeograph machine, and were mailed to the members. Later editions were printed on a photocopier. Beginning about 2000, WAIC began emailing newsletters.
WAIC associates have written many articles that have been published in our newsletter, IAAI publications, and newspapers throughout Wisconsin.
Structure & Funding
During the 1980's the Wisconsin Insurance Plan (WIP) provided much of the funding for WAIC's operating expenses and the $5000 Arson Tip Program. WIP employees actively participated in WAIC, holding positions on the board for many years. During the 90's budget concerns impacted WIP's ability to fund WAIC.
Throughout the 1990's meeting attendance declined and the council switched to bimonthly meetings. These meetings were held at a number of locations, including the Greenfield City Hall and the Milwaukee Fire Department Training Academy on Teutonia Ave. Lunch was usually served, with submarine sandwiches a regular feature.
Despite the best efforts of the board, attendance at monthly meetings continued to decline. In the late 1990's there was discussion on discontinuing operations, or asking another organization to take over operation of the Tip Hotline. At WAIC's September 1999 meeting, an urgent and impassioned
request from the Wisconsin State Fire Marshal that WAIC continue independent operations convinced the board to reconsider. In 2002, with the assistance of attorney Robert Burrell, the Wisconsin Arson Insurance Council reduced the size of the board, discontinued monthly meetings, and focused on HOTLINE operations.
The current board meets over lunch every other month, continuing the "3rd Wednesday" lunch tradition established by the founders.
In 2006 WAIC was recognized as a 501(C)3 corporation by the IRS. WAIC's maintenance and funding of the HOTLINE "lessens the burdens of government" and allows us to claim this status. Membership dues and contributions to WAIC are tax deductible.
WAIC currently relies on membership dues and Sustaining Memberships to fund our operations. Membership dues were $5.00 per year until June 2000 when the board agreed to raise them to $15. On several occasions insurance companies have replenished the Arson Tip Program when a tip was paid out on a loss involving their company.
The Wisconsin Arson Insurance Council now views its primary function as maintaining the Arson Hotline (800-362-3005) and has expanded to the identical function on the worldwide web. Tips received on the Hotline or received via e-mail are processed by the Wisconsin Department of Justice in Madison. WAIC's Award's Committee evaluates tips and determines whether an award should be paid and what the amount of that award will be. Complete anonymity is possible for submitting a tip on the web or on the traditional telephone hot line, but awards can only be made if the identity of the informant is known. Obviously, these identities remain confidential. Over the past 29 years WAIC's Arson Hotline has received almost 600 tips and paid out more than $45,000 to people who have helped solve dozens of arson fires.
Arson remains a problem into the 21st. century. After almost 30 years, the Wisconsin Arson Insurance Council continues to advance our goal of stopping this malicious crime.