Along with protecting lives and property, a good fire department can benefit the communities it serves financially, as residents of one Surry County fire district are about to learn.
The Skull Camp Volunteer Fire Department, based at Lowgap, has achieved an improved fire-suppression rating from the state based on a recent survey to evaluate its capabilities.
Its rating went from a Class 7/9E to Class 5/9E rural department, which is considered significant.
In real terms, those numbers mean the Skull Camp unit improved in several areas, based on information from Ben Powell, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Insurance which oversees the Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM).
A department’s rating is based on an inspection conducted by officials with the North Carolina fire marshal’s office.
Among other things, the routine inspections check for proper staffing levels, sufficient equipment, proper maintenance of equipment, communications capabilities and availability of a water source.
Communications and water supply capability were among the areas in which Skull Camp improved, according to Powell.
“They also received credit in (a) community risk reduction section that was not available in the last rating,” he added.
While a higher rating indicates that a department is overall better equipped to respond to fires in its district, this also can significantly lower homeowners’ insurance rates for the residents it serves. That is the case with the Skull Camp Volunteer Fire Department due to its recent evaluation.
“With all this, the community should see a reduction of about 15 percent in homeowners’ insurance,” Powell summed-up in explaining Skull Camp’s upgraded rating.
It becomes effective on Nov. 1.
The Skull Camp Volunteer Fire Department was established in 1977 and has about 35 members, according to its chief, Ricky Casstevens. It serves an area of 58 square miles containing around 3,500 residents.
Casstevens said a combination of factors led to the department achieving the higher fire-suppression rating.
“The last time we were graded was 15 years ago,” said Casstevens, 32, who has been fire chief for only about the last couple of years. He joined the department in 2001.
During that time, improvements have occurred in Surry County’s emergency communications system, which in turn increased Skull Camp’s capabilities in that area. The department also has worked closely with the county fire marshal’s office in enhancing its operations.
In addition, Skull Camp has stressed public education programs. “And that’s helped us,” Casstevens said.
He said thanks also go to fellow volunteer fire departments — specifically Franklin, Pine Ridge and Central Surry — for cooperative efforts with Skull Camp that have aided its operations and helped with the fire-suppression rating.
As a result, Skull Camp is drawing accolades from the highest level of state government, including congratulations from Mike Causey, North Carolina’s insurance commissioner who also serves as state fire marshal.
“I commend you and your department for your dedication and commitment to making your community a safer place to live,” Causey wrote in a letter to Casstevens earlier this month.
“I’d like to congratulate Chief Casstevens for the department’s performance and for the hard work of all the department members,” Causey added. “The citizens (affected) should rest easy knowing they have a fine group of firefighters protecting them and their property in case of an emergency.”
Casstevens said a new substation is planned by the Skull Camp Volunteer Fire Department, which will reduce response times in certain areas and further refine its suppression capabilities.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.