The Insurance Services Office (ISO), after evaluating the department’s service abilities and equipment, last week dropped its ratings in the area covered by Fort Oglethorpe Fire & Rescue from a Class 6 to a Class 3 in the county and a Class 4 to a Class 3 inside the city, said Lt. Doug Flury of Fort Oglethorpe Fire & Rescue.
“ISO is the fire service rating for insurance companies,” Flury said. “They rate fire departments countrywide, with (a rating of) Class 10 being no protection whatsoever to a Class 1 (being the best). We started improvements in the mid-1970s when we got to a Class 7, then we got to a Class 4 in the early 1980s and now we’re at a Class 3.”
Fort Oglethorpe Fire & Rescue has four paid employees and 65 volunteers.
“We’re only the second agency in the state of Georgia to obtain a Class 3 ISO rating with a predominantly volunteer force,” Flury said. “Class 3 is probably the optimum rating that we can get at our present standing without going to fully-paid.”
Flury said the only neighboring fire department that he is aware of that shares Fort Oglethorpe’s new ISO rating is the all-paid Chattanooga Fire Department. Neighboring East Ridge and Rossville have Class 4 ISO ratings, while Walker County has a Class 6 ISO rating, Flury said.
As a result of these improvements, Fort Oglethorpe’s fire readiness is now among the top 2.6 percent of fire departments in the country, according to the ISO.
Flury said that lower ISO ratings will mean lower insurance premiums for Fort Oglethorpe businesses and homeowners in areas protected by Station 1 on Forrest Road, Station 8 at Boynton and Station 10 on Mack Smith Road.
Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Judd Burkhart said the city’s fire department has offered quality service for years. Now they will also help save residents money, he said.
“Everybody in our service area will see savings,” Burkhart said. “The community’s tax dollars are hard at work saving them money.”
Flury noted that ISO supplies its own rate information to insurance companies, so it could take a few months before homeowners and businesses see lower rates.
“ISO sends out quarterly updates and that’s what will be the holdup for everyone to get their savings on that,” he said. “They need to keep it in the back of their mind that they’re going to save money and they need to make sure that their insurance agent doesn’t forget it. If they don’t see a difference in their bill, they need to ask about it and they need to make sure that they’re in our response district.”
By law, fire departments must be inspected every 15 years, Flury said. Fort Oglethorpe was last visited by the ISO in 1995, he said.
Fort Oglethorpe’s new rating was the result of constant improvement efforts since the last inspection was conducted, Flury said. Since 1995, the department has upgraded to 5-inch hoses, added more hydrants through the city’s building ordinances, adapted a community pre-fire plan, added a ladder company and purchased better equipment.
The department received credit for engine companies that were purchased for each station in 1995, Flury said. Each truck is capable of pumping 1,500 gallons of water per minute.
“Fifty percent of the credit deals with our trucks, equipment, training and personnel,” he said. “With our credit for engine companies, they want to make sure that we have enough pump capacity arriving on the first alarm assignment to handle that needed fire flow for commercial alarms.
“That’s why we have to have Fort Oglethorpe, Boynton and Mack Smith all responding to a commercial alarm, to get that needed fire flow,” Flury said. “People wonder why we send so many trucks – that’s one of the reasons why.”
ISO rated Fort Oglethorpe Fire & Rescue with a 99 to 100 percent compliance rate on equipment contained on all engine companies, Flury said.
Having enough adequately trained operators and dispatch circuits at the Catoosa 911 Center also helped the department, Flury said.
Fort Oglethorpe Fire Chief Bruce Ballew said the department’s new public protection classification was the result of an ongoing commitment to serve the community and reflects a unified effort between the department, Fort Oglethorpe and Catoosa County governments, Catoosa 911 Center, Fort Oglethorpe Water Department, Catoosa County Utility District and Tennessee-American Water Company.
“We would also like to thank the Chattanooga Fire Department and Walker County Emergency Services for the use of their training facilities,” he said.
“The members of the fire department put in a considerable amount of hard work and long hours during this time to ensure that hydrants, hose and equipment were tested and replaced as needed,” Ballew said. “The work to (develop a) pre-fire plan (for) every business and apartment complex in our area and keep those pre-fire plans up-to-date has been a consuming but much-needed part of the fire service and the (new) classification.”
“This is the fruits of the department’s labor as far as pre-planning,” Councilman Ronnie Cobb said.
The fire chief said each member of the department spends more than 260 hours per year training at the stations, at regional training, the Georgia Fire Academy and the National Fire Academy.
“To the members of the department, hats off and thank you for your work and a special thank you to the family members for letting us borrow them for this task,” Ballew said. “To the community, we say thank you for your past support and we hope you will continue to support the fire department in its continuing growth and advancement in the future.”
Lt. Flury said the department is planning on adding a fourth station in the future to continue providing optimum coverage in its service area