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Grams: split fire rating problem solved for most
Paradoxical insurance hikes followed previous ISO gain
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Statesboro Fire Department Chief Tim Grams

For hundreds of residents of Statesboro’s five-mile fire service district, issues that blocked them from its near-top ISO “2” fire protection rating and resulted in higher insurance bills have been fixed, Statesboro Fire Department Chief Tim Grams reported Tuesday.

The Insurance Services Office, a business organization that provides data to insurance companies, issues fire protection classifications on a basic scale of 10 to 1. Details have changed over the years, but “10” still means no recognized public fire protection, while “1” is the best available anywhere.

Effective last October, areas outside the city limits but within the five-mile district and near hydrants on the city’s water system, as well as Statesboro itself, were assigned a “2.” Statesboro’s previous rating had been a “3,” and Grams noted that a “2” is almost unheard of for fire departments this size.

However, the new rating for the entire district was a split 2/2Y," where "2Y" represented a lower level of protection available for addresses that are not on the city’s water system and had a private water supply not certified to provide sufficient flow. As he explained in February, households with a “2Y” had the equivalent of an old-style “8B,” or roughly a “9,” rating.

Many homeowners’ annual insurance premiums in those areas actually increased, in some cases by thousands of dollars.

But after submitting a new report to the ISO in March, the Fire Department received a “flat classification,” with a slight reduction in overall score but still well within the range for class “2,” Grams told Statesboro City Council.

“So basically now, effective September 1st – that’s when the new report will take effect – all residents that live within the Statesboro fire district that are within five miles of a Statesboro Fire Department station or a Bulloch County fire station that responds in automatic aid, as part of that agreement, will receive the Class 2 regardless of their proximity to water,” he said.

The automatic aid agreement with the county isn’t new. But in the past, locations also had to be within 1,000 feet of “recognized water,” such as a hydrant, to qualify for the “2” classification. The “recognized water” obstacle has been removed, he said.

 

Not quite everyone

“So this should, by my best guesstimate, make about 90 to 95 percent of the residents in that fire district eligible to receive a flat ‘2’ rating,” Grams said.

Grams had hosted four public info sessions in February at different locations in the district to discuss the problem with citizens. He also renewed efforts to get cooperation from private water system operators, after noting in February that the Fire Department had sent letters to water  companies three times earlier in the process and received no response.

At that time, he had estimated that 1,000 or more homes were affected by the downside of the split fire protection rating. These included homes in subdivisions served by four major local water companies, but also homes on smaller commercial and private systems.

Grams’ comments Tuesday imply that 5 to 10 percent of homes in the district are still not reached by the improved classification. But previously, coverage within the district outside the city limits was only in the 50-60 percent range, he estimated.

“We still technically have a split classification of a 2/10, and that’s because we do still have some areas in the fire district that are not within five miles of our stations or a Bulloch County automatic aid station,” Grams told the council.

 

Credits cooperation     

The improved result was achieved through the cooperation of private water system owners and also by planning within the SFD and the Bulloch County Fire Department to shuttle water in trucks where needed, he said in an interview after the meeting.

“A huge piece of it was working with the private water system owners in the district that have hydrants that in the initial evaluation were not receiving credit because of testing and maintenance and other types of issues,” Grams said.

Operators of private water systems had their hydrants checked with flow meters and made repairs where needed so they could be ISO certified, he said.

Meanwhile, the fire departments looked internally at “how we can put enough people on the fire scene to fight the fire but also who we can designate to help shuttle that water,” he said.

Together, the shuttle plans and private water system improvements amount to saying that “Statesboro is capable of delivering at least 250 gallons a minute anywhere, which is the same as having a hydrant for any house,” Grams said.

 

County interested

Having informed City Council, he indicated he would also be taking the news to the county government.

“It was one of the key concerns and frustrations by county residents in the fire district as well as the commissioners, so  we certainly worked hard and did our best to address it, and luckily we were fortunate enough to not only retain the ‘2’ but get it to where it’s applied throughout the first district,” Grams said.

Interim City Manager Jason Boyles commended the effort by Grams and his staff, saying, “He put a lot of hours into this, working hand-in-hand with the county.”

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.