Like in many other industries, the fire service receives ratings for performance. These ratings result from an ISO inspection and classify a fire department based on fire suppression efforts.
The ISO (Insurance Services Office) provides data to insurance companies to help determine fire insurance premiums. Communities also use the same data to evaluate their public fire protection efforts.
First, the ISO collects information about a municipality's fire protection services through the PPC (Public Protection Classification) program. Based on that data, the ISO numerically classifies the municipality's fire suppression efforts based on FSRS (Fire Suppression Rating Schedule) criteria. The ISO states, "The program provides an objective, countrywide standard that helps fire departments in planning and budgeting for facilities, equipment, and training." Furthermore, the municipality's rating can "lower fire insurance premiums for communities with better public protection."
In addition to lowering insurance rates, fire departments with positive ISO ratings prove they have exceptional fire prevention and suppression capabilities. Moreover, a favorable ISO rating helps build trust between the fire service and the community. Having the community's trust is especially important because fire agencies do much more than firefighting. According to a National Fire Protection Association report, "Department members fight fires and engage in activities to prevent fires from occurring. Beyond these traditional roles, they work to mitigate other risks, from providing fall prevention education to addressing the opioid crisis." Overall, a municipal fire agency must keep a community safe. Therefore, a community must believe their fire department will keep them safe, and receiving an ideal ISO rating gains community trust.
"Effective fire services provide both emergency response and community risk reduction. Quality service delivery, adequate training and equipment, and positive community relationships help improve quality of life, growth, and economic opportunity in a municipality."
During an inspection, the ISO collects and evaluates data against the FSRS. Based on the evaluation, the ISO classifies a fire department on a scale of 1-10. According to the ISO, "Class 1 generally represents superior property fire protection, and Class 10 indicates that the area's fire-suppression program doesn't meet our minimum criteria."
The FSRS provides standards for four major areas: emergency communications, fire department, water supply, and community risk reduction.
Preparing for an ISO inspection can improve a fire department's classification. In advance of an evaluation, a fire department should:
Collect essential paperwork and data on:
Firefighters need water. Yet, "Cities often are reluctant to increase the property tax rate, or increase water rates, to fund improvements in the water system that are needed to improve community fire protection, even though such improvements can lead to savings in homeowners’ insurance premiums." Although cities might hesitate to increase the water supply, an inadequate amount will result in a low ISO score.
To improve ISO water supply scores, fire departments must work with their local government to update old hydrants, water lines, and storage facilities. Improving the water supply doesn't just help ISO ratings but also solves other fire service challenges. For example, in rural communities, water systems "are built to supply drinking water and fire suppression is secondary. Older systems weren’t built to help facilitate firefighting." Therefore, if municipalities updated water systems, firefighters could increase their ability to save lives and property.
Before an ISO inspection, departments should improve internal communications. All members of a department must be on the same page about the following topics:
Nationwide, the fire service is facing personnel shortages and recruitment difficulties. Consequently, firefighters experience burnout, leading to lower performance during a shift. These challenges with personnel can lead to lower ISO scores. As a result, fire departments should focus on recruitment to relieve the pressure on current crews. In addition to recruitment, agencies should also increase in-service and online training. Improved training procedures enhance safety and can also boost ISO scores.
Without reliable equipment, fire crews cannot do what they do best – help their communities. Proper equipment maintenance improves ISO ratings and ensures firefighters have everything they need when needed. During an inspection, it's also essential for departments to provide records of maintenance schedules and completed maintenance tasks.
In the end, preparing for an ISO inspection increases a fire department's ability to receive a positive classification but also requires a lot of time and resources. Instead of gathering papers, logbooks, work orders, and personnel documents, the most effective way an agency can prepare for an inspection is with First Due's end-to-end software.
With First Due, agencies have their data in one place. Under a sole login, customers can consolidate NFIRS, ePCR, fire prevention, pre-incident planning, scheduling, personnel management, asset and inventory, hydrants, training, community risk reduction, mobile response, advanced data analytics, payment for services, and more.
For information on how First Due can help improve your ISO rating, join us for a demo or contact us here.