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County fire rating improves

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Better equipment, training to cut business-insurance costs

By Greg Summers

Commercial property owners in the county can look forward to an upcoming reduction in their property insurance premiums, thanks to improvements in the county’s firefighting systems.

Officials learned Jan. 22 that the countywide ISO (Insurance Services Office) Public Protection Classification, commonly called the “ISO rating,” has been improved from Class 6 to Class 4. 

“For a volunteer-driven county fire service to get a 4, we’re pretty proud of that,” said Lancaster County Fire Rescue Director Darren Player. “There’s lots of planning and dedication that goes into it.

“We did not anticipate getting a 4 and figured we’d get a strong 5,” he said.

The new rating takes effect May 1. Insurance companies use ISOs to determine their premiums, with lower ratings an indicator of improved firefighting capabilities and training. 

“This is one of those things that lots of people have been working on for a long time,” said Lancaster County Council member Brian Carnes, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee.  

This drop may mean a 6-7 percent reduction for some residential property owners, who saw their homeowners’ insurance rates slashed by up to 50 percent in 2010. Eight years ago, the county’s ISO dropped from Class 9 to Class 6. 

The premium reduction for commercial property owners in the county hasn’t been determined. Player said he’s still waiting on that information.   

McDonald Green Volunteer Fire Department Chief Butch Ghent said the new rating is a positive for the county.

Ghent, a volunteer firefighter for 39 years, can still recall the day when turnout gear was mostly helmets, raincoats and rubber hip boots. Communications equipment, he said was limited to CB radios.

“We’ve come roundabout 490 degrees,” said Ghent, who also chairs the county fire commission. “We’ve circled 360 degrees about three or four times with the improvements that have been made.”    

ISO evaluations used to be done every 10 years. They are now done every three to five years in faster developing areas of the country.

“Our departments are still separate, but they’re basically treating us as a countywide department…. You can’t diminish how progressive our county leaders have been, for us, for the sheriff’s office and EMS,” Player said. 

He attributed the improved rating to upgrades in firefighting equipment and apparatus (fire trucks) and a well planned and designed emergency communications 911 system. 

Player said improved pressurized 6-inch water lines and hydrants installed by Lancaster County Water and Sewer District in populated areas of the county were also factors in the lower rating. 

 

Follow reporter Greg Summers on Twitter @GregSummersTLN or contact him at (803) 283-1156.