The Public Protection Classification, commonly referred to as the ISO rating after the agency that provides the review, is measured on a scale of 1 to 10, Camp said. A Class 1 rating represents the best fire protection, and a Class 10 represents no fire protection, Camp said. Ratings within the county range from 6 and 9. Structures within five miles of a fire station or within 1000 feet of a fire hydrant are have a Class 6 ISO rating, while structures outside those boundaries are rated at Class 9.
The ISO considers many variables when handing out its ratings, Camp said. Factors include how the department receives and handles fire alarms, water supply and the fire department’s equipment and staff. Insurance companies factor in the ISO rating to determine insurance premiums.
Camp said he expects the countywide ISO rating will drop to Class 5 by August after review by the standards-setting organization. Although fire hydrants are scarce in the unincorporated areas, new equipment purchased with the $65 Emergency Services fee, which is included with property taxes, makes up for that shortfall. The county has also acquired several fire vehicles through a lease-purchase agreement.
Naysayers have said they doubt the department’s ability to serve the county’s outlying areas effectively, but Camp knows it can be done, he said.
“A fire department out west shocked people by being able to provide a ISO rating of 1 with no water lines at all in their service area,” he said.
Camp, who came to Walker County after leading the Fort Oglethorpe Fire Department, said that city’s ISO rating dropped from a 7 to a 3. He credits the city’s rating reduction on improvements and upgrades according to a 10-year plan.
Camp said a county with a limited water supply like Walker is forced to consider alternative methods of distribution, which can be expensive.
“We’re buying ISO points,” he said. “Obviously, we can’t afford to be a Class 1.”
Some citizens have questioned the department’s judgment regarding vehicle purchases, particularly the new Ford Rangers driven by the 10 volunteer chiefs in the department, Camp said. By providing trucks to volunteers, the department fulfills an ISO requirement of having full-time chiefs available at all times. The purchase prevents the county from paying an annual salary and benefits to keep someone on the clock.
The Messenger asked three local insurance companies to quote premiums for a $100,000 frame house with a $500 deductible as the example. Based on that data, the Messenger estimated the average insurance for that house in a Class 10 area at $1,038. The same house in a Class 9 zone only pays about $768. Residents in a Class 6 area pay about $458. If the ISO rating can be lowered to a Class 5 as Camp said he expects, the premium further drops to about $451.
Homeowners residing in a Class 9 area would see about a 55 percent decrease in their insurance premiums, or a savings of $317