The Hinesville Fire Department has an Insurance Service Office rating of 3, which is saving homeowners money, Deputy Fire Chief Kristian Johanson said.
Insurance Service Office is a third-party company that evaluates a community’s ability to provide fire protection. Some insurance companies use ISO ratings to determine a homeowner’s home-insurance premium. Ratings range from Class 10, the worst, to Class 1, the best. Johanson said Hinesville has been Class 3 since 2003.
HFD does not want to go higher, to a Class 1. Johanson said the department consulted with insurance companies and realized a Class 3 rating and Class 1 rating are the same in terms of home-insurance premiums, and there would be no savings to the taxpayer.
“They would have to invest more through property taxes to fund everything that we would need” to get to Class 1 Johanson said. HFD would have to hire more people, buy more trucks and build more stations to become Class 1.
“The initial investment to go to (Class) 1 will be $5 million to $6 million and annually around $1.75 to $2 million,” he said. “In the U.S. there are 48,754 fire departments evaluated by ISO. Only 3,065 are Class 3. In the state of Georgia, there are only 113 that are Class 3, and we are one of those 113. There’s only three Class 2 and 10 Class 1.”
Johanson showed a breakdown of how much Hinesville homeowners are estimated to have saved. He received insurance premium cost estimates from three insurance companies for single-family dwellings (6,383 homes based on geographical information systems data), valued at an average of $111,000. The average insurance premium is $1,491 at Class 10 and $482 for Class 3. The total premium is $9.5 million at Class 10. Class 3 is $3.1 million, saving around $6.4 million.
“We’re saving people a lot of money. Our budget last year was $3.4 million. … We saved them almost as twice as much money on homeowners-insurance premium than our whole budget,” Johanson said.
HFD protects $1.88 billion worth of property, Johanson said, and of that, $383,000 was lost last year. He added that of the properties HFD responded to last year, 87 percent were saved.
Flemington contracts with Hinesville for fire protection, and it receives Hinesville’s ISO rating. The ISO rating applies only to incorporated areas of Hinesville and Flemington.
When HFD started the process of becoming Class 3, Johanson said the department had some “refining to do,” had to hire more people and buy more equipment. After reaching Class 3, he said it has not been difficult to maintain.
“What the guys do every day, people think is above and beyond, but that’s just the way they are,” he said. “So it wasn’t hard to do what we do because we have those people that are self-initiators and have that type of inclination to want to do the things we need to do.”
ISO evaluation includes the number of fire stations, how many people work on a shift, equipment, number of trucks, the city’s water system, fire inspectors, investigators and pre-fire plans.
Johanson said the department creates a pre-fire plan for every public building. The plan is a drawing and floor plan that identifies any special hazards. When the HFD responds to a call, the person in charge of the scene uses the plans.
ISO also evaluates the HFD’s safety education programs. Johanson said the department runs 20 programs, which include CPR classes, disaster preparedness training, fire-extinguisher classes and a gun safety-lock program.
Insurance companies are not required to use ISO ratings. Johanson suggested that homeowners check to see whether their insurance companies use ISO ratings and whether they are being evaluated under the correct rating.