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If your fire department's pre-fire plans are not all updated, you're not alone. Pre-planning all structures inside a jurisdiction within a short timeframe is undoubtedly the monkey on every fire department's back. Nevertheless, pre-fire planning still should be a top priority because it will only ensure improvement in the department's ability to make the firefighters' workplace safer. Another big benefit of pre-planning, however, is that it can lead to an improved ISO rating for a fire department, which translates into lower insurance coverage rates charged to owners and tenants of both residential and commercial buildings.
While lower insurance rates can be a big benefit of aggressive pre-fire planning, this is not the driving impetus for fire departments to pre-plan. "Firefighters are much more motivated by improving the overall fire protection within their community than in saving some insurance money," said Chief Stan Pratt of the Honesdale, PA, Volunteer Fire Department. "If we get both, so much the better."
The ISO views itself serving a dual role - to provide both the insurance industry and communities across the country a reliable gauge of the fire protection capabilities for handling structural fires. To help make this role a reality, the ISO must work closely with fire departments to show them how they can be the best in their communities for fire suppression and fire safety. But, of course, it's not an easy task. This is partly because not all fire departments were created equal since the resources available to them can be vastly different depending on the department and its municipal or county infrastructure. A big-city fire department, for example, frequently has more funding, resources, personnel and equipment available to it than a small-city department. The extent to which a fire department can achieve a better ISO rating is tied to how well it is prepared to suppress fires and prevent major property loss.
The ISO evaluates three aspects of a fire-suppression delivery system:
- The fire department itself
- (50% of the total score).
- The available water supply
- (40% of score).
- The communications center
- (10% of score).
The actual rating is calculated using a point scale of 1-100. A fire department earning a score of 90 or greater receives a Class 1 ISO rating - the highest achievable; a score of 80-89 gives a Class 2 rating. The very lowest ISO rating - 10 - represents a fire department that does not meet the minimum criteria found in ISO's Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS). A fire department can be assigned a Class 10 rating if it does not train at least 12 hours per year or responds to structure fires with fewer than four firefighting personnel. These are just two items identified in the minimum FSRS criteria that a fire department must meet to earn an ISO classification better than a Class 10.
More Training Needed
"One of the biggest challenges is water supply," said Dave Dasgupta, an ISO spokesman. "Another important area is training of personnel and maintenance of records. The more complete and better kept the records, the more helpful it is for us to gauge a fire department on this aspect." Generally, most fire departments score well on communications since they either have their own communications center or have easy access to one with whom to contract for service.
According to Dennis Gage, manager of Natural Hazards Mitigation for ISO, "The real weakness seems to be in both personnel and training." Gage noted if a fire department has ample firefighting personnel that this contributes significantly to reducing losses. "To see that these departments aren't scoring extremely well on structure firefighting training, it makes sense," Gage explained. "These departments are focusing on hazmat, homeland security, and EMS training, which are predominant issues," he said, acknowledging that it is expensive to have paid personnel. "Obviously, these departments have to balance this expense with their needs," Gage said.