The Roseboro Volunteer Fire Department has bettered its fire rating and, with the assistance of some paid staff and years to wait for its next inspection, seeks to continue that improvement in the future.
The Town of Roseboro now has improved ISO (Insurance Services Office) ratings for both its incorporated and outlying coverage areas, which residents will soon see in their lowered premiums. The ratings officially take effect Oct. 1.
ISO provides information to insurance companies, ranging from stats to risk assessment for specific locations. Its ratings for local fire departments are used by insurance companies to determine premiums for homeowner policies in that area. ISO uses the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule — a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best score.
“One is best, 10 is worst,” Fire Chief Lee Coleman Jr. stated simply. “We were a 6 in town, and the goal was to go to a lower number. We did that and will go to a 5 starting Oct. 1. Our outlying areas outside of town went from a 9 to a 7, which I think is going to make a lot of people happy because for the longest time our county people were paying for a 6. The insurance companies said there was a problem so they changed their score to a 9, which jacked their property insurance up. Now, we’re bringing down to a 7 which will bring the insurance costs down to where it was initially.”
Commissioner Ray Clark Fisher said the move from a Class 6 to a 5 was a “significant” one.
“That’s very significant,” Fisher said. “You’re talking significant savings to the citizens of Roseboro and the surrounding areas if you drop from a 6 to a 5 in town and from a 9 to a (7) outside. If you total it all up, it will be save the citizens a tremendous amount of money.”
The town of Roseboro was a 7 for many years before dropping to a 6. Now it is 5, said Fisher, a longtime member of the department. “If you get much lower it gets tougher,” he noted. “It’s very difficult to get it below that 5. He’s put a lot of work into that. I just know being on the fire department for 30-some years how difficult it is to get these ratings down.”
“We still have a lot of things we’re trying to work on,” said Commissioner Cary Holland, “but Lee, the Fire Department and all the volunteers put a lot of effort into the ISO.”
Holland and Fisher agreed that the next level could be reached, but it would likely have to be on the shoulders of paid staff.
He cited a checklist used in calculating the rating and highlighted categories in which the Roseboro Fire Department had room for improvement.
Departments are graded on a 100-point scale, including factors relating to training and equipment, location of the fire stations in the community, communications and water resources and accessibility. He said the department itself accounted for half of that 100 points, with 50 points being the maximum score possible.
Roseboro received 20.2 out of 50.
“The bulk of that 50 points is deployment and company personnel,” Coleman noted. “That has to do with staffing, which we don’t have. We’re all volunteer. So we get (punished) right out of the gate for not having people on staff.”
There is a standard, Coleman said, that fire departments should have a truck deployed within 90 seconds of a call with four people on it. That just does not happen with volunteer staffs, the chief said.
“No volunteer department can do that — it’s just shooting for too much,” he remarked. “That’s why you see fire departments going to paid people. Once you start putting that first paid person on, you start gaining points in that section. Putting people down there full-time (is the best solution) but that’s out of the question right now, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”
Coleman said the Roseboro department averages just under 12 volunteers responding to the station upon a fire call. Due to their volunteer status, ISO takes that number and divides it by three. The agency said there is a delay in deployment because of that, a reason for the docked points.
He said having part-time staff at the department during the week would help in that regard, a request that was already included in the town’s budget.
“This is in the budget,” Coleman noted. “It has been for over a year. My request is to put one person on two days a week, hopefully Monday and Friday, maybe Monday and Thursday. If you’re looking at the future and going below a 5, it starts with paid people. Speeding up the response is what it boils down to. We have the equipment, we have the trucks and we’ve got the training. I think starting the paid people now two days a week and maybe next year putting on another or two more, that will help us a lot.”
In accordance with keeping with federal regulations, the paid staff cannot also be a volunteer member of the department. Coleman said the current firefighters do not have an issue with that.
“Nobody at the department has a problem with that,” the chief attested. “They’re gung-ho and they’re ready for them to come in, because that’s just going to benefit us that much more.”
Coleman said he was already gearing up for the next inspection in an effort to better the rating even more. However, there will be plenty of time to get ducks in a row, according to what insurance agents told the fire chief.
“They are exactly 10 years behind on inspections in North Carolina,” Coleman said. “They said that legally, once our inspection is done, we can come back in three years and request another one — but they are so far behind, to not look for them before the five-year mark. That gives us plenty of time to work on this.”
“We’ve got a lot to do,” said Holland.
Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.