Lewisburg Fire Department rated higher

Friday, December 4, 2009

A national business that rates fire departments for insurance companies has raised its rating of the Lewisburg Fire Department, meaning fire safety is up and insurance premiums might go down.

New Jersey-based Insurance Services Office Inc. (ISO) has concluded that the fire department here deserves a rating of four instead of its long-held rating of five, according to the public protection summary released here this week.

ISO evaluates and classifies 44,000 fire protection areas with a rating schedule of one through 10. Ten means there's no protection, or hardly any. One is the best.

"According to the ISO agent who did our survey," Lewisburg Fire Chief Larry Williams said, the new rating "will affect the homeowners insurance premium a little bit. It should help everybody, but it will help some more than others. It depends on who your agent is and what their underwriter is.

"The most significant effect will be on our retail facilities," Williams continued during his review of a 35-page report released by City Manager Eddie Fuller.

The improved rating from five to four, Fuller said, "is because of improvements we've made over the last several years." Those include the addition of personnel and a new fire hall.

Williams said any decision by underwriters regarding a premium "is out of my hands. What I did was make sure we're more prepared, better trained and have better equipment.

"This gives us the chance to give back, other than come out and put out a fire," the fire chief said. "We're very proud of our accomplishment."

Williams didn't take all the credit, but as chief he explained that city employees "were hoping to get to a class 3, but we missed that by 5.3 points," he said.

ISO ratings are detailed, even down to how a fire department is listed in the phone book.

"We have the FD listed, but we don't have emergency 911 listed under the fire department listing," he said of one way the department lost points that would have helped it achieve an even better rating. "That's something that's simple enough to do. We'll get it in before then print the phonebooks again. We thought we had it changed last year."

Williams, his department, and other appointed and elected city leaders have been working to improve the rating for at least two years.

"This is something we asked for when I was appointed chief in 2006," Williams said. "One of the first things the city manager and I talked about was having a training program and improving our ISO rating."

Training programs are among the more important aspects of fire department analysis.

"It hasn't been easy," the chief continued. "One example is where we were putting 40 hours a year into our training program. Now most all of our guys are averaging over 100 hours of training a year.

"We had some equipment we had to replace anyway, and that went toward our ISO rating," Williams said.

"It's taken a lot of cooperation. It's not something I've done alone. It's from the City Council which appropriated money for a new truck. The one we purchased was right at $200,000.

"The city manager has been very supportive. Bob Davis, our inspector, Bill Thomas, our training officer, Jason Davis, our public education officer, Mike Barron, a firefighter here who holds a state instructor certification, and our three captains, Larry Baxter, William Lynch and Steve Anderson have helped..."

Lewisburg's Fire Department was rated at a 5 since the early to mid-1970s, and now in 2009 it's rated at 4. Fire departments have six months to examine the report they get from the ISO and reply with requests for consideration. Because the department here was so close to reaching the 3 rating, Williams is looking for "some things here that we can change at no significant cost to the city" that might improve the rating even more.

"We're rated pretty good for the city and department size that we are," he said.

Williams plans to report to the City Council on Tuesday night in City Hall.