The Lexington Fire Department's new insurance rating is something the department can really be proud of. Effective November 1, 2017, the fire district was rated a class 2, formerly a class 3. It is an upgrade that staff worked very hard to get and to understand the scope of the impact this will have on the community, the City's Communications Specialist talked with the Fire Department to learn more. Check out the interview below.
Q. What determines the ratings? What was done that brought the department from a class 3 to a 2?
A. The ratings are determined by combining the scores of three different categories: the fire department, the water system, and the 911 center. The fire department is responsible for 50% of the grade, the water system is 40% and the 911 center is 10%. All three are graded independently and the scores are combined. The scores equate to ratings class 1 through 10, with class 1 being the best. A score of ninety or more equates to a class 1. A score of eighty to eighty nine equates to a class 2 and so on. We were previously a class 3 with a score of 70.5. Our current score is 83.94.
We started the work on improving the grade about seven years ago. To get an idea of where we were grading wise, a consultant was hired to look over our operations and grade us. What we found was we really hadn’t improved from our previous inspection. The fire department is graded on training, equipment, operating procedures, resource deployment (station locations, number of apparatus sent to structure calls, and the number of personnel put on the scene). We began to look at what areas we could improve within the department. We were not logging and recording our training properly, nor were we recording all the training we were doing. We overhauled the training program and increased our hours considerably. We looked at our fire hydrant maintenance and testing program and reformatted that as well. We compared our equipment list to the items that are required for grading purposes and purchased the equipment we were missing. We also implemented new policies. One of the new things the ratings program has changed is in the area of fire prevention. While we aren’t graded on our fire prevention efforts, bonus points are available. We concentrated on those as well, insuring that fire prevention inspections, pre-incident planning, and public education are meeting the required bench marks to obtain credit.
The water system is graded on the quantity of water available for fire protection, the concentration of fire hydrants, and the reliability of the system.
The 911 center is rated based on its ability to receive, process, and dispatch structure fire calls within the standard set forth by the National Fire Protection Association, as well as system reliability and redundancy for notification in the event the primary system is non-functional. The standards set expectations for call taking/processing time and dispatch time as well as the number of communicators needed based upon workload of the center.
Q. Were you surprised by the upgrade? Is this something the department has been working towards for a long time?
A. We were not surprised by the grade. This is something we have worked on for several years and we knew what we needed to do. We knew what points were within our control and what we had to do to earn them. As with anything that is obtained through a grading process, we were anxious but overall confident that we were going to improve.
Q. Talk about dollar savings for the city and what it means financially for businesses. Is it just businesses that benefit?
A. The dollar benefit is difficult to assess. The rating system impacts how insurance premiums are charged to property owners. The better the rating, the better the insurance rates. Generally, homeowners stop seeing a benefit once a grade reaches class 6. However, recently there have been insurance companies recognizing and giving credit for the better class ratings. Who does see the benefits are the commercial properties. They can receive lower premiums with the improved ratings. The intangibles include the City’s commitment to public safety and excellence and improving the ability to recruit business and industry. A strong city can and does invest in protecting its citizens, which makes it more desirable to prospective citizens and businesses.
Q. What has to be done to maintain this higher rating?
A. We must keep doing what we are currently doing, including maintaining our water system. There is a possibility the water system and the fire department will share equal weight at 45% each in future evaluations. We have to maintain and improve the water infrastructure and keep doing the things that got us here. One thing that will really help with our training scores is to have our own training facility. One third of the training points are credited through facility training. That is, having a dedicated training area that includes a minimum of two acres designated for training, a building at least three stories tall and a building for live fire training. We currently do not have such a facility inside the city limits. We have used the facility at Davidson County Community College but it really does not suit our needs. Currently, there is no building for live fire training and water flow is restricted. Recently, we have been utilizing Rowan Cabarrus Community College in Salisbury. While their facility does meet our training needs, it is too far away and impractical to allow us to send multiple crews, or companies as we call them. It takes all our companies to fight a structure fire and that is the way they should train, together, so the fire attack is coordinated and the companies are used to working with each other. Our own training facility will enable us to do that and put it all together, getting a more realistic sense of the resources and coordination necessary to fight a fire, but most importantly, providing the much needed hands on training they need. From a ratings perspective, it will maximize our training score, and rightly so. Facilities training is the most important and carries the highest weight in the scoring process.
Q. What has to be done to be class 1?
A. We have already started work. As a department, we lacked three points of scoring all we could score. Assuming we obtain those three points during the next rating, we will still be more than three points short of the 90 needed to make class 1. We invited the ratings inspector to the department to discuss our score and ways to improve. Adding the training facility will help us gain our three points, but after that it comes down to personnel and resource deployment. We would need to increase staffing from its current level of 16 to approximately 24 personnel on duty each shift. There is a percentage of the city that is not covered by a fire engine within one and a half driving miles of a fire station. That can be remedied in one of two ways: relocating a station(s) or adding a fourth station.
Q. Are the ratings determined every year?
A. The inspection cycle is supposed to occur every five years. However, because of events like the wildfires that occurred last fall and hurricane/flood events, the State Fire Marshal’s Office deploys resources for extended periods of time to assist with managing mitigation and recovery efforts, which in turn, puts them behind. They are adding additional staff to help stay on track.