Enquirer Herald

Firefighters look to best ISO rating

For years, the Bullock Creek Volunteer Fire Department was made up of only five members and simply performed based on the meager demands of its small and tame rural coverage area.

Fires are rare in the Bullock Creek region, where about 1,320 residents reside. The volunteer department only fields 20 to 30 calls a year.

But that's not keeping Bullock Creek from trying to get lower Insurance Service Office ratings, which evaluates a department based on how it handles fire alarms and trains personnel. The ISO ratings also are based on response times, water supply and other factors. The department will be tested on Tuesday and rated on a scale of 1-10.

The lower the rating, the better for the community.

The Bullock Creek Volunteer Fire Department is currently rated a 9, which is the default score for functioning departments that have not followed up with a test. Bullock Creek's rating is the highest in the area. Neighboring cites York (4) and McConnells (6) have lower ratings.

The department hasn't tried for a lower rating before now, mainly because of a lack of interest, said Rickey Wilson, senior fire prevention technician for the York County Fire Prevention and fire chief of the Smyrna Fire Department.

"Now that they're doing their organized training sessions, people feel like they're getting more out of it and they're willing to do more," Wilson said.

A good ISO rating gives residents in the fire departments coverage area lower fire insurance.

Dick Kay, State Farm insurance agent, said ISO rating affects insurance premiums, but there is no way to definitively gauge the ISO's affect on insurance rates.

"The affect depends on the rating drop," Kay said. "They could save as much as $220 or as little as $60 or 70. To put a rate on your house depends on safety features, if it's brick or wood, so there's a lot of variables. But the fire protection change is usually a big difference."

One drawback came in the rural Bullock Creek's lack of fire hydrants. They'll have to use water-supply points that came from farmers and landowners with ponds, who were willing to let the fire department fill up fire trucks using their property. They also had to apply for a grant with the Rural Fire Board to improve the roadways into the pond area.

It also means in the event of an extended drought, Bullock Creek may have to call on neighboring fire departments for mutual aid if ponds dry out.

Randy Thompson, York County fire marshall, said the chances of the draft ponds drying up is slim.

"We tested the ponds during the most severe portions of the drought," he said. "Where we have our draft sites were not affected."

To prepare for the ISO test, they put in non-stop training for two years and added 5-10 new volunteers over the past year.

Wilson and the County Fire Prevention have helped the department with their training, which included handling the apparatus, hauling water and fire-fighting techniques. Each month of training adds to the initial ISO score.

"They're taking it more serious," Wilson said. "They want to get their ISO lowered and be equal to the other departments. They're doing a lot more now then they were, and want to show that they can lower the ISO just like everybody else did because, as a fire department, they're equal -- they're ready."

A gauge of the department's dedication was displayed in its 1:22 time to set up the fire truck and flow water for which the ISO test provides five minutes to complete.

Leon Maloney, fire chief at Bullock Creek Volunteer Fire Department, said his department never gave up on the ISO test.

"We try to answer all the calls, and fortunately we don't have many structure fires," Maloney said. "But our area is developing now, so we want to get the fire insurance rates lowered and help them out."