Fire departments improve ratings

Lower insurance premiums expected
By DeeAnna Haney | Mar 07, 2014
Maggie Valley Fire Chief Chris Carver stands in front of one of the fire trucks.

Residents in the Iron Duff, Crabtree, Jonathan Creek and Maggie Valley fire districts could be paying less money for insurance beginning in June thanks to  improved ratings with the state.

An inspection, conducted by officials with the Department of Insurance Office of State Fire Marshal (OSFM), is required on a regular basis as part of the North Carolina Response Rating System (NCRRS). Fire departments are graded on a number of things including proper staffing levels, sufficient equipment, proper equipment maintenance, communications capabilities and availability of a water source. In order to give ratings to the departments, state officials spent about two weeks in Haywood County inspecting the three local fire departments.

Over the years, the Crabtree Volunteer Fire Department has been improving their facility and their equipment with this goal in mind — to save their community money, said Fire Chief Junior Messer. During that time they have completed a new addition to their building and purchased new equipment including a new engine and brush truck.

After feeling they had reached a new level of service, the department reached out to the state to perform an inspection, which is an arduous process.

"We had to perform a lot of hands on work and a lot of people took off work from their day jobs to do this and try to help our community," Messer said. "I want to thank the firemen for all the hard work they put into this. People just don't realize how many man hours actually go into this."

The Crabtree Volunteer Fire Department improved its rating by three classes, potentially saving residents in its district about $100 per month on their insurance premiums. Residents who live within a five-mile radius of the fire department should see a drop in their monthly premiums beginning June 1, when the new ratings go into effect. The amount of savings depends on different insurance companies.

Most rural fire departments fall into the 9S category, which is the lowest possible rating to be recognized as a fire department by the state, according to a press release from the OSFM.

"While lower ratings do not necessarily indicate poor service, a higher rating does suggest that a department is overall better equipped to respond to fires in its district," according to the press release.

The rating improved in Maggie Valley as well. Since 1985, the Maggie Valley Fire Department was considered a 4/9 split district. That meant that residents who lived within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant were considered a level 4 rating, but those who lived further than 1,000 feet from a hydrant were considered a considerably higher level 9 rating, said Fire Chief Chris Carver.

In order to bring that rate down, the town and the county created two separate districts — the Maggie Valley Municipal Fire Insurance District and the Maggie Valley Rural Fire Insurance District.

The department has also accumulated more equipment over the years to better their services to both districts.

During the recent inspection, the municipal district maintained a level 4 ISO rating, but the rural rating decreased from a level 9 to a level 5.

"People who live outside the city limits are going to love this. They should see a substantial difference in their insurance costs," Carver said.

The Maggie Valley Fire Department operates with six paid fire fighters and 28 volunteer fire fighters. There are 44 water supply points, such as ponds and streams, and 166 fire hydrants in both districts.

The Jonathan Creek Volunteer Fire Department also improved its rating from a 9 to a 6, which should have an affect on the bills of the residents in their 5-mile district.

During the department's 28 years of operation, they have only attached to one of their 26 fire hydrants on two occasions, said department Chairman Claud Messer. The rest of the time, they have relied on the pumps on their trucks to get the job done.

The department consists of 32 volunteer fire fighters, many of whom also took time out of their work schedules to participate in the inspection.

"We've got three-and-a-half years of hard work and training to get to this point," said Fire Chief Bob Messer. "It was because of the dedication of the guys who wanted to do this that it was a success. It was a team effort."