Fort Mill Times

Tega Cay Fire Department improves rating

Some Tega Cay property owners are in line for a reduction on their fire insurance premiums.

That's because the all-volunteer Tega Cay Fire Department has received an improved rating, courtesy of the Insurance Services Office of New Jersey.

"We are a three-rated fire department," Fire Chief Scott Szymanski said. "Our rating puts us in the top six percent (among fire departments) in the nation."

ISO rates fire department services nationwide on a scale of one to 10. A rating of one represents the best. In Tega Cay, the new rating yields savings for some property owners, Szymanski said.

"It will help the businesses more than residents," Szymanski said.

"Their business insurance (premiums) will be less."

Business owners could see about a five percent decrease in their premiums, he said. For now, the ISO rating will not change fire insurance premiums rates for homeowners, he said. However, both business and home owners could see a significant drop in their fire insurance premiums when the Tega Cay Fire Department achieves a two ISO rating.

The fire department learned of its new rating in April.

The rating and its subsequent fire insurance premium reduction come at a time when the economy is in a recession and unemployment is at an all-time high. Most businesses are reporting loses rather than gains. Yet, the new ISO rating brightens the economic forecast for Tega Cay business owners, City Manager Grant Duffield said.

"An improvement in our ISO rating is something the city is very proud of," he said. "Any opportunity to save our residents money on their insurance (premiums) is a benefit to everyone."

Last year, the Tega Cay Fire Department went from a seven to a four ISO rating, Szymanski said.

"Then in November, with the acquisition of the ladder truck and a paging system, we resubmitted and were reevaluated," he said. "That dropped us to a three."

The department received documentation of its new rating in April. The three rating is not an easily met feat. Approximately 1,878 fire departments nationwide were rated as a three, according to the 2008 Public Protection Classification Numbers. That same document reflects that in South Carolina, only 61 fire departments have a three ISO rating.

"In York County, there are 17 fire departments, and there's only one 'three,'" Szymanski said. "Us."

Szymanski credit's the department's new rating to assistance received from the Flint Hill, Fort Mill and Riverview fire departments.

"Without them, we wouldn't have enough manpower to battle structure fires," he said. "They send an average of two to three pieces of equipment and about 20 people."

Approximately 38 paid fire departments in the state have a better ISO rating than Tega Cay's fire department, proving there's room for local improvement. Yet, obtaining a better rating is linked to having paid firefighters, he said. There are no paid firefighters --including Szymanski -- in the Tega Cay Fire Department, he said.

"We're in negotiation with the City of Tega Cay to put in two paid firemen starting Jan. 1, 2010," Szymanski said of the effort that will cost about $80,000 for pay and benefits.

Plans also include building a new fire department near the Tega Cay Wal-Mart, he said.

"When we do, we will need six additional paid firemen," he said.

Pay and benefits for six paid firemen could top $200,000, he said.

"We will have to have the new station in place within the next two or three years for response time to Wal-Mart and all the development in that area," he said. "Right now, we have to go out of the city and back in the city to fires in the Wal-Mart and Gardendale area."

Using the Hubert Graham Way, a long-awaited corridor, after it is completed is projected to reducing emergency response time.

Building the new fire house could run approximately $2.5 million, fire officials contend. Yet, Szymanski said, the additional manpower and new fire house are necessary armor to keep up with a growing Tega Cay.

"We're playing catch-up," he said.

For now, fire officials will work on a more immediate goal, Szymanski said.

"Our main concern is to maintain a three rating," he said. "By becoming a three, we will now be inspected every three years versus four to 10 years with a four or greater (ISO) rating."