By Priscilla Seals
One of the primary concerns of citizens at last May’s town hall meeting about emergency services in Blanco was the cost of homeowner insurance in localities served by the Blanco Volunteer Fire Department. For some it was the first time they had even heard the term “ISO rating,” and the fact that the city of Blanco has a rating of 8 was meaningless. Monday night’s presentation at the March meeting of Emergency Services District #2 addressed many of those concerns.
What is the ISO? As Phillip Bradley, ISO Mitigation Manager for Field Operations in Texas, explained, the Insurance Services Office is neither a state nor a regulatory agency. It gathers data for insurance companies on a community’s fire protection services and issues a rating, called the Public Protection Classification (PPC). Based on this data, the insurance company sets rates for homeowner policies.
What data does the ISO collect to determine a community’s rating? Not surprisingly, a community’s water system constitutes 40 percent of the rating—pumps, the size of lines, the number of well-maintained, functional hydrants and their location, and enough stored water. Fifty percent of the rating is based on the fire department and these factors: the type and extent of training fire company personnel receive, the number of people who participate in training, emergency response time, maintenance and equipment testing, and pertinent fire fighting and safety equipment. ISO uses National Fire Protection Association standards to arrive at its ratings. Ten percent of the rating is based on communications—how well the department receives and dispatches fire alarms. However, as Bradley pointed out, if a property is more than five road miles from the fire department, it automatically earns a 10 rating, the worst. As Bradley pointed out, “A 10 may be good on a Bo Derek scale, but not as an ISO rating. “ According to the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office, communities in the worst classification had fire losses more than twice as high as communities in the best classification. Blanco County Attorney David Hall asked if a rural property can get a reduction for a dedicated reservoir and was told that one of the questions asked is whether the property has an alternative water source such as a pond, tank, or rainwater storage tanks. BVFD board president Harvie Lindeman asked whether the ISO gets calls from people in the county who are surprised that their rating is so low. He said he thinks people just assume they have good protection, when in reality they should just be very careful to take precautions to never have a fire in the first place.
When was the last field study done in Blanco? Bradley said it was done in 1993. His agency has attempted to set up a study in Blanco numerous times but has been unsuccessful.
What is the cost of a study? Bradley said that the study costs the community nothing—it is underwritten by insurance companies. The cost is in time and effort by various agencies in the community to provide accurate data for the study.
Is it possible that a city could get an even lower rating as the result of a study? Bradley said it is highly unlikely that Blanco’s rating could drop, based on the improvements that have been made since 1993. Statistically, fewer than two percent of communities studied get a lower rating. He concluded, “It wouldn’t take much to get you over the hurdle to the next (better) category. Bulverde-Spring Branch Fire Chief Dustin Beaudoin explained that his community went through a field survey in 2011. “It was a lot of paper work—if you keep up with all that, you’re okay.” He said the survey took two days, that all the hydrants around the county were tested, but that the ISO PPC rating rose from a 7.9 to a 5. Other measures the department took included manning the stations 24 hours a day, getting better apparatus, and increasing the number of stations. ESD board president Ann Hall clarified the fact that mobile stations can improve a community rating, or just a simple structure with walls, a ceiling, and a heat source, in which to store a fire truck. BVFD board member questioned whether the field study report gives specific suggestions for improvement. Bradley responded that it gives a rating in each area—“It’s a road map for the department,” he said.
Does the ISO have to be invited in to do a field study? Bradley responded that a letter from the mayor, the fire chief, or the city manager can initiate the process. He said it is important for all relevant city agencies to be onboard with the study, since they will have to provide data. The fact that no council members or city employees were present at the meeting was commented on, but someone pointed out that there was a special city council meeting at the same time as the ESD meeting. Treasurer Mary Ann Millard pointed out that she had attended city council to invite them to the meeting and that they could have scheduled their special meeting for another night.
The conclusion of this article will appear in next week's issue of the Blanco County News.