Residents in the Franklin area will be getting more bang – and likely less fire – for their bucks, thanks to the recent efforts of the Franklin Community Volunteer Fire Department.
The department’s insurance rating improved a grade in December, moving from a six to a five, according to Chief Johnny Hiatt.
“We have dropped to the best point that a volunteer fire department could be,” he said.
The N.C. Department of Insurance Office of State Fire Marshal inspects communities to determine its Public Protection Classification on a scale of one to 10, with one being the highest level and 10 an indication of no fire protection.
The Mount Airy Fire Department is currently rated at three, Hiatt said, adding that some other ratings in the county range from six to nine.
The classification is used by insurance companies to determine insurance premiums.
The Franklin department’s last inspection occurred 15 years ago.
At that time, their rating leaped from a nine to a six, which saved homeowners about $150 per year on their homeowners insurance.
This year’s upgrade will reduce premiums by a slight bit.
A five level rating also benefits the business community more than a six level rating, said Hiatt.
The state agency will inspect communities more frequently in the future, every five years instead of every 15 years, Hiatt noted.
In addition to saving taxpayer dollars, the ratings improvement reflects that it is better equipped to handle a fire emergency.
“The taxpayer is paying you taxes to run the fire department,” Hiatt said. “It’s the fire department’s job, even though you’re volunteer, to give them the best fire protection that you can afford with the tax rate that you have.
The department covers nearly 8,200 people residing in the Northwest corner of the county along the Virginia border.
“There’s a whole lot to the insurance rating,” said Hiatt, who has served on the force for about 30 years, six of those as chief.
The process includes addressing logistical shortcomings, such as water availability, that might slow down a department’s ability to respond.
Sometimes establishing a water point requires obtaining a landowner’s agreement.
The inspection also includes paperwork, and ensuring reports are submitted correctly to the state.
“You have to be able to put a fire out,” Hiatt said, explaining that the inspector might pick an address for a hypothetical fire. “You’ve got to show (the inspector) you’ve got the trucks, the manpower and the water access to put that fire out,” he said.
The Franklin force has been working to improve the rating since June, Hiatt said, which is especially significant considering that the extra work is all done by volunteers.
“When you come down in numbers like that, it’s how much better you are, how much work you’ve done, how much you’ve improved the fire protection for that community,” he said, crediting the volunteers on the force.
“It’s a big group effort,” Hiatt said. “They’re in there for the right reasons, to help the community, to volunteer. Those are the ones that sticks in there to make things like this happen.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.