City fire rating will quench insurance hikes

By Tom Joyce

June 27, 2014

A newly awarded fire-suppression rating for Mount Airy not only is good news for the city fire department — it also means local property owners won’t pay more for insurance.

Mount Airy was in danger of having its rating downgraded due to additions in coverage territory and other factors occurring in recent years, according to Fire Chief Zane Poindexter.

But after a recent evaluation process that included a stringent inspection, the city was notified this week that the Class 3 rating for its coverage district is being maintained. The grade was issued by the training and inspections division of the N.C. Department of Insurance/Office of the State Fire Marshal.

“I think that’s a tremendous accomplishment, because we have basically doubled the size of the district since our last grade (issuance), which was in 1998,” Poindexter said.

This has included a round of annexations in 2007 and 2008 of densely populated communities such as Hollyview Forest, Sandy Level and Cross Creek.

At the same time, the Mount Airy Fire Department has not added manpower or taken other major steps to bolster its readiness to battle blazes, including the proposed building of a new station to better serve the city’s northern sector.

“We were really anticipating going up,” Poindexter said of a rating system in which a higher number indicates a less-effective department.

The chief credited “hard work” on the part of department members for leading to the Class 3 ISO rating being maintained. ISO stands for the Insurance Services Office, which evaluates all fire departments in the country.

“It’s a really good grade for a department our size,” Poindexter said.

He explained that a local ISO team was established to help the fire department prepare for the periodic readiness evaluation, which culminated with the inspection.

“The inspector was here for about three days and went through our whole department with a fine-tooth comb,” the chief said.

Areas examined included training processes, equipment, record keeping and the implementation of risk-reduction programs such as a recent initiative to provide smoke detectors to homes lacking them. Another plus was the presence of a ladder, or aerial, truck added to the fire department in 2011.

The $759,000 vehicle is available to respond to fires striking larger, multi-story structures such as the hospital, hotels and schools. The Mount Airy Fire Department previously had a ladder truck in its fleet, but it was in bad condition and unreliable in the field.

“That was just one part of it,” Poindexter said of the ladder truck’s role in the city’s overall ability to keep the Class 3 rating.

Insurance Impact

In notifying Mount Airy of the outcome of the suppression evaluation in a letter dated Tuesday, state Commissioner of Insurance Wayne Goodwin commended the fire department and indicated that it should be proud of the achievement.

“I also know that the majority of citizens may not be aware that the rating of their responding fire department directly impacts their property insurance calculations,” Goodwin wrote.

The maintaining of the Class 3 level will keep the cost of fire insurance from increasing in the city limits, Poindexter said.

And in some cases, the charges might even come down.

The fire chief pointed out that owners of property brought in to the city through the 2007-2008 annexations could be unaware that the Class 3 status now applies to their holdings, rather than whatever rating was assigned before annexation.

He advises that such owners check with their insurance providers to make sure they are benefiting from the municipality’s rating, something profit-minded insurance companies aren’t prone to do on their own.

Poindexter said he knows of cases where this has allowed property owners to reap cost savings.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.