Sep. 3--HENDERSON -- As fire stations throughout Vance County prepare for October ISO testing, many hope the addition of paid staff and a county water system, and thus more efficient response, will improve ratings from a 9 to a goal of 7.
The county requests testing from the state every few years, at no cost to the county, as it adds infrastructure, such as more fire hydrants, that would improve ratings and ultimately lower home insurance costs for residents in the county's various fire districts.
Barring Bearpond and Epsom fire departments, all volunteer stations and the county fire department will undergo testing in just over a month, County Manager Jordan McMillen said. Currently, all stations have an Insurance Services Office rating of 9 based on a scale of 1-10, according to the Vance County website.
The county hopes to reduce the Vance County Department to a 6 or 5 rating, McMillen told the Dispatch. It also hopes to decrease all other ratings at volunteer departments to a 7, though McMillen noted that higher ratings, particularly a 9, is "typical for rural areas."
"You're talking about volunteer fire departments -- so they're all volunteers," he said.
This is due to water availability and access. Ratings usually improve as one moves closer to the city, as it has easier access to fire hydrants and other resources. For example, Henderson Fire Department, the city's department, has an ISO rating of 2.
ISO testing involves both an on-site observed water shuttling simulation, but also requires pre-planning. The departments must submit a packet of information to the state detailing district maps, response time, ability to transport or transfer water, staff hours worked, and more.
The last time the departments set for October testing underwent the rating process -- at least four to five years ago, according to McMillen -- there was no county water system nor paid part-time positions at the volunteer departments.
At that time, the county was in discussions about building a county water system, but had yet to begin construction. It informed residents the undertaking to build a system was the beginning of a long process that would eventually yield lower ISO ratings thanks to increased water lines and therefore, fire hydrants.
The water system has been built in different phases, with the first complete in 2013, the second in 2015, and phase three set for an October completion. In 2018, the county purchased the town of Kittrell water system.
Now, according to McMillen, the county has about 100 miles of water lines, with hydrants about every 1,000 feet on the eastern side of the Golden Belt District, a good portion of the Cokesbury and Hicksboro district. Many of these areas also have city fire hydrants.
"The actual water shuttle piece [of the testing] is various departments working together to shuttle water from one location to another from a hydrant to a receiving pool and then their time as they do that," McMillen said. "It's not just one department -- they all work together, the county department works together with the volunteer departments and it's simulating a live situation. It is a lot of time and energy that goes into it."
The county also allocated funding this year's budget for two paid part-time firefighter positions at each department except Epsom, which received funding for one position, thus an increase in staff, in anticipation that more people would improve response ratings.
Recently, when Bearpond Fire Department went through testing, its ratings improved in areas within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant. Bearpond didn't participate in water shuttling and received a split rating of 6/9. Residents within range of a hydrant live within the district with a lower rating and therefore lower home insurance costs.
But the county hopes this split rating, which is Drewery Fire Department also has with a 7/9, will soon be a singular number.
Those split rating departments have requested last year to go through testing again so they can participate in water shuttling and hopefully lower ratings across their district. It took the departments a year to get on the state's testing schedule, McMillen said.
(c)2019 Henderson Daily Dispatch, N.C.
Visit Henderson Daily Dispatch, N.C. at www.hendersondispatch.com