Volunteer fire departments’ strides may not be enough

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County commissioners want to know how volunteer fire departments in Person County can follow the lead of fire departments in neighboring Caswell County to improve their insurance ratings.

Monday the Person County Board of Commissioners held their board retreat focusing on fiscal year 2019-20 where they heard a presentation from the Department of Insurance’s Office of State Fire Marshal about Person County VFD ISO ratings.

Fire Rating Inspector Brian Cox gave advice on how departments can improve their ISO rating by following Caswell County’s plan of working together.

“There are four different areas that makes up the grade they receive. Number one is your communications, then you have got to work with what kind of water system you have in your county. Then your fire department, what kind of fire department do you have, personnel equipment, how do they operate...that all makes up the total score that a fire department gets which determines what your residents pay on your homeowners insurance. So, that was the key thing they worked on. Number one is working together,” Cox said.

The inspection conducted by officials with the OSFM is required on a regular basis as part of the North Carolina Response Rating System.

OSFM inspectors conduct routine inspections, looking for proper staffing levels, sufficient equipment, proper maintenance of equipment, communications capabilities and availability of a water source.

Once inspected, the OSFM uses the NCRRS rating system to determine a fire department’s score.

The rating system ranges from a high score of one to 10, which means a department is not recognized as a certified fire department by the state.

Although lower ratings don’t necessarily indicate poor service, a higher rating does suggest that a department is better equipped overall to respond to fires in its district.

Each department in Person County has been making strides to improve their ISO ratings.

Some of the improvements departments say they are working on include purchases of additional required equipment, mutual aid training and access to water supplies.

However, the lack of improvement in the ratings has frustrated the county.

“We have required in this year’s fire funding contracts, a progress report from each department to articulate how they were making strides to obtain and improve their ISO rating and we do have a report from each department in there. There is some hope that some of these departments are fairly close and are scheduled for ISO inspections but as a whole we have just not seen any real interest in improving this for taxpayers,” said Person County Manager Heidi York.

Although Caswell County fire departments took almost three years ago to improve their ratings, Cox believes there is hope for Person County VFDs.

“Our office does not mind meeting with these fire departments and helping to lay out a game plan and show them, it is just a little bit of paper work and a little bit of training. There is no reason why a fire department can’t obtain a good ISO. It just takes a little bit of work,” said Cox.

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