ISO Rating Drops To Class 3 In Whitfield County Sept. 1

Monday, June 19, 2017 - by Mitch Talley

Property owners in Whitfield County can look forward to a big savings soon on their homeowner’s insurance bills, thanks to an upcoming change in the county’s ISO rating.

County Commission Chairman Lynn Laughter has received official word from the Insurance Services Office, which said a recent analysis of the county’s fire suppression delivery system has been completed and Whitfield County’s ISO rating has dropped to a Class 3 from a Class 5.

“That’s huge,” said Whitfield County Fire Chief Ed O’Brien. “We had hoped to drop to a Class 4, so we are very excited to hear that we actually are going down to a Class 3.”

The new rating takes effect on Sept. 1.

“ISO’s Public Protection Classification Program plays an important role in the underwriting process at insurance companies,” said Alex Shubert, manager, National Processing Center, ISO. “In fact, most U.S. insurers – including the largest ones – use PPC information as part of their decision-making when deciding what business to write, coverages to offer, or prices to charge for personal or commercial property insurance.”

Chief O’Brien said the new rating – which will place the county in the top 11 percent nationwide - should lead to lower insurance rates for homeowners and commercial property owners, by as much as 20 to 25 percent, and he urged residents to contact their insurance companies after Sept. 1 to be sure the change is reflected in their premiums.

“Earning a better ISO rating takes years of work,” Chief O’Brien said. “The department started as a full volunteer service back in the early ’70s, then it became a county department where one person was duty  at each station Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the rest of the time it was still volunteer. Then we moved to a 24-hour shift with one man on every truck, and now we’ve progressed to two men on every truck. It’s been a long, slow process.”

But one that has been well worth the effort, he said.

The chief  praised residents for being willing to fund an increase in staffing levels (to 25 firefighters from 14 per 24-hour shift) through the special fire tax, as well as approving the 2015 SPLOST that is paying for new radio communications equipment and two new ladder trucks, as well as new turnout gear and other badly needed equipment for firefighters.

“It’s not just, hey, let’s drop a lot of money in the fire department because we want a good one,” Chief O’Brien said. “You actually get a reward if you have a good fire department – you pay less on your homeowner’s insurance.

“You can have a class 5 department and be okay with it and give the money to the large insurance companies,” he said, “or you can pay the money right here in your community and have a better class 3 department. That way you’ve got more people working, you’ve got the protection when these storms come through, and you have us running medical calls. I mean, there’s so much more than just fighting fire that we do.”

The new rating will affect a large portion of the county, though O’Brien did point out that four areas will remain at a higher ISO for now. “If a structure is more than five miles from a fire station, it’ll remain Class 10,” he said.

Two of those areas – Cohutta and Riverbend – should see lower ISO ratings when two new fire stations open in 2018, and homeowners along the Whitfield-Catoosa line could drop to a Class 5 rating if an automatic aid agreement with Catoosa is worked out.

“When you spend money on a fire department to improve your ISO rating,” the chief said, “you’re gonna see the result. Yeah, you may be paying the government more, but you’re saving in a different account in your home budget. And that’s what I think is just great about whoever built this ISO system.”

Sample Insurance Premium Data:

Last year, Whitfield County Fire Chief Ed O’Brien gathered the following data about potential insurance premium savings for the median home value here.
Class 5 department with frame construction, $150,000 value – premium is $843
Class 4 department with frame construction, $150,000 value – premium is $677
Savings of $166, or 24.5 percent reduction
Class 5 department with masonry veneer, $150,000 value – premium is $775
Class 4 department with masonry veneer, $150,000 value – premium is $625
Savings of $150, or 24 percent reduction  

How the ISO rating is formulated:
Insurance companies use ISO ratings to help establish fair premiums for fire insurance – generally offering lower premiums in communities with better protection. By offering economic benefits for communities that invest in their firefighting services, the ISO program provides an additional incentive for improving and maintaining public fire protection. Under the ISO program, called the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule, communities can score between 1 and 10, with Class 1 being the most exemplary and Class 10 being the least. Historically, residential communities with the worst ISO ratings have had fire losses that were more than twice the amount of losses in communities with the best ratings, according to studies conducted by ISO. Here’s how ISO comes up with the rating.
Fire Department (50 points) – Focus is on a community’s fire suppression capabilities based on the fire department’s first-alarm response and initial attack to minimize potential loss. 

Water Supply (40 points) – ISO evaluates the community’s water supply system to determine the adequacy for fire suppression purposes. Also considered are hydrant size, type, and installation, as well as the frequency and completeness of hydrant inspection and flow-testing programs.

Emergency Communications System  (10 points) – A review of the emergency communications system focuses on the community’s facilities and support for handling and dispatching alarms for structure fires.

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