Volunteer Fire Departments improve ISO ratings

Published 11:14 pm Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Troy Fire Department reached a historically low ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating in July, bringing lower insurance rates for business and home owners in Troy starting in October. The Class 2 rating the department earned puts the department in the top 3 percent nationwide.

But it wasn’t the only local department that was able to achieve a lower score for the residents in its coverage area.

The Meeksville Volunteer Fire Department had previously been at a Class 9 ISO rating, which is about as bad as a department can be rated, said Fire Chief Thomas Davis.

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“That’s a bad number to have,” Davis said. “The higher the number, the worse it is.”

So the department set out to lower the score, bringing discounted insurance rates and better protection for the people within its coverage area, the largest in the county at 132 square miles.

“We’ve been doing a lot of training,” Davis said. “When the inspector from the ISO came to do the inspection, I told him point blank, ‘I’m just taking over. I’ll take any advice to help get this better.’”

Davis said the ISO was extremely helpful in telling the department where it could improve. 

“He walked us through it and told us that there were a couple of things we needed to change,” Davis said. “Little things like swapping from this truck to that truck; we did it all while he was sitting there. It was a big help to us. He wasn’t there to say ‘You don’t have it right’ and then leave. He said ‘I can’t give you points for this, but here’s how you can fix it for the next inspection.’ He was instrumental going through and working with us.”

With the help from the ISO, Meeksville now has a Class 6 rating.

Davis said his volunteer fire crew is doing everything they can to keep the rating low and provide better fire protection for the people they serve.

Meanwhile, Jesse Senn’s volunteer department at Hamilton Crossroads was able to go from Class 6 to Class 5.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” Senn said. “It’s unheard of to start getting into that range for a rural department like Hamilton Crossroads. There’s no big city around us, no big water system, no financial support from a city or town with a bigger income; it all has to do with budgeting and crunching numbers to get what you need.”

Senn said the department gets one check a month in the range of $900 to $1,200 from the state tobacco tax, the only funding guaranteed for volunteer departments. Senn said fuel costs about $300 per month, insurance is $6,000 per year, and there is cost to maintain and replace equipment – all factors that influence the ISO rating.

“This goes to show we need financial support to keep that ISO rating,” Senn said. “It saves a tremendous amount of money whenever it comes to paying for house insurance. At a Class 5, it puts them into another category where businesses and residential home owners are saving a good bit of money. We cover four communities in our response area and they’re the ones that benefit from it.”

Senn credited the fire chiefs and firefighters before him for setting the gears in motion to bring the rating down.

“If not for the majority of former chiefs, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Senn said. “I believe we’re on a roll to be a Class 4 in five more years.”

Senn said there is a simple way to donate funds to his department.

“For any volunteer fire department like us, we have two accounts at our bank: a tax account and fundraising account,” Senn said. “Anybody at any time can go by and make a deposit to that fundraising account. Ours is at the First National Bank in Brundidge or Troy. Or people can mail donations to our mailing address, where we have a lockbox, at 126 County Road 3323 in Brundidge. Every little bit helps. Even if it’s only a dollar, that’s a dollar more than we had.“