Early this week, the City of Independence received a dose of good news from the Insurance Services Office (ISO) who issued an improved safety rating for the city’s structural fire protection system.
According to Public Safety Director David Cowan, the City was given a rating of “2,” improved from a “4” rating issued by ISO in 2013. The rating scale runs 1 through 10, with 1 being the best possible classification.
Cowan explained that ISO ratings are a universal measure of community fire safety and ISO data is the “go-to” resource for the insurance industry when underwriting and calculating premiums for residential, commercial and industrial properties. The city’s new rating was based on an extensive ISO questionnaire completed by city leaders and an on-site visit by an ISO field representative to assess the city’s preparedness and capability to respond to structure fires.
“The review covered the gamut, from our firefighting vehicles and equipment; to our dispatch communications system; personnel training; water supply and pumping system; and the availability of and distance between fire hydrants in the community,” Cowan said. “We are thrilled to have received such a positive rating, and we were pleasantly surprised to have so significantly improved from the previous review.”
Cowan noted the ISO reviews are not scheduled on a definitive cycle but generally take place every four to five years, and the city usually receives little or no notice of on-site visits. The last full ISO review was conducted in the fall of 2012, Cowan said, shortly after Independence consolidated its Fire and EMS departments.
“Having just merged our two departments and completed cross-training with the entire crew, we scored very well on the assessment, because we had doubled our available firefighting staff and all personnel were freshly trained,” Cowan said, noting that the rating – announced in early 2013 – improved from a 5 to a 4 after that review.
Similarly, Cowan said, recent changes in city operations also contributed to the improved ISO rating, including the installation last summer of the new Next Generation 911 communications system and the construction of the new fire/EMS apparatus bay that accommodates all fire response vehicles in one location, rather than having trucks housed at various locations across town due to lacking space at the former city hall.
“These improvements most certainly served us well in the current evaluation,” Cowan said, noting that the city’s telecommunications system received a perfect score in several sub-categories, including the availability of an enhanced 911 system; wireless functionality; computer-aided dispatch; alarm processing; emergency dispatch protocols; and telecommunicator training and certification.
According to ISO, the organization has evaluated more than 48,000 fire protection systems across the United States. Its classification system has three key components:
- Emergency Communications, covering emergency reporting, telecommunications and dispatch circuits and accounting for 10 percent of the total score; the
- Fire Department, which covers response times, personnel training, available equipment and other operational issues and makes up 50 percent of the score; and the
- Water Supply System, evaluating the adequacy of the city’s water supply for fire suppression purposes and accounting for 40 percent of the classification score.
The city’s aggregate scores, encompassing multiple considerations in each of the three categories, were as follows: Emergency Communications, 8.3 out of a possible 10 points; Fire Department, 37.47 out of 50; and Water Supply, 31.25 out of 40.
After reviewing the ISO report, Cowan said, the city has identified a few areas for improvement, including stronger water pressure to the fire hydrants in some areas of town and enhanced training for firefighting staff, which new Fire/EMS Chief Shawn Wallis has already named as an early priority for his administration.
“We have a lot of young firefighters in the department,” Wallis said. “We will start with the training basics and be sure everything is covered and everyone clearly understands his or her role at the scene of a fire.”
Cowan said he, Wallis, Police Chief Jerry Harrison and Utilities Director Terry Lybarger will continue to carefully review the 29-page ISO report to identify additional opportunities for performance improvement, as well as important achievements to celebrate with staff.
Additionally, Cowan said, property owners are encouraged to discuss the ISO rating with their insurance providers to determine whether the city’s improved score will impact their individual premium rates. He noted that savings more commonly are realized by larger businesses and industries with significant property values, and all insurance companies may not factor in the ISO rating in setting premium rates.