Understanding ISO ratings, the impact they have on the community


BUCKHANNON — Buckhannon Fire Department Chief JB Kimble took some time to help educate the community on Insurance Service Office (ISO) ratings and how they affect individuals and communities.

The ISO creates ratings for fire departments and the surrounding communities based on how well-equipped fire departments are to put out fires. ISO then sends this score to homeowners insurance companies, which is then used to determine individual insurance rates. Scores range from one to 10 and the lower the score, the better. A score of 10 would mean that the fire department did not meet ISO’s minimum requirements.

There are four criteria that comprise a fire rating score. Based on the ISO’s Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS), 50% of the score comes from the quality of the fire department including staffing levels, training, and proximity of the firehouse, 40% of the score accounts for the availability of water supply including the number of fire hydrants and the amount of water available to put out fires, 10% comes from the area’s emergency communications system (911). Kimble noted, “There is a section that is kind of like extra credit,” referring to an additional 5.5% that comes from community outreach which includes fire prevention and safety courses. Also, an area that is more than five driving miles from the nearest fire station is automatically rated a 10.

Chief Kimble explained that insurance companies are utilizing Google Maps to determine the mileage and then find out who was benefitting from a lower score area and if outside of the five driving miles, making those homeowners a class 10, which significantly increases their insurance rates. To combat this, Kimble would like to find a location to place a substation such as property on Mud Lick. Having a substation would then allow firefighters to respond from the substation and would help homeowners with insurance rates.

“Through our accreditation process we have gathered a lot of information. We have 177 houses to the South/Southwest that are beyond the five miles, we have 54 to the East/Northeast but unfortunately we can’t help them as much with this idea because there are no fire hydrants, so they would still be a class 10. That being said that goes back to the planning of the water systems and putting fire hydrants in strategic locations so that we can save homeowner’s some money,” Kimble said. “Saving the homeowners money on their insurance rates would allow them to put that money saved back into the community.”

Currently, Buckhannon Fire Department has an ISO rating of four and it is reported in data regarding ISO ratings that the majority of fire departments are given a rating between four and five. Kimble noted that in 2017 Buckhannon Fire Department went from a five to a four. He also noted that another inspection will be performed in April 2022 and they are hoping to obtain a score of three.

ISO does not provide ratings to the public so, as a homeowner, you cannot look up your home’s rating directly. However, anyone can contact their local fire department to find the score for the area. It is also important to note that many insurance companies look at other criteria to determine rates, but it is a consensus that if an area has a lower ISO rating, homeowners are likely to have lower insurance premiums. According to valuepenguin.com, “Some insurers do not utilize the ISO rating at all, namely State Farm, which uses their own metrics based on factors like historical fire data.”

It all works together; the better staffed, equipped and prepared the local fire departments are, the lower the ISO rating, which means lower homeowners insurance premiums and more money in the homeowner’s pocket to in turn be used within the community.

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