Insurance Services Office, Inc. (ISO) is the country's leading supplier of statistical and actuarial information for insurance companies. ISO takes the data they gather based on surveys and rates communities from one to ten - one being the highest rating and ten being the lowest. The lower the rating, the lower fire insurance cost for property owners in that city.
Insurance companies subscribe to this information and use it as a guide for home owners and commercial property owners throughout the country.
Middlesboro recently went from a 6 rating, to a 5 rating, and even missed a 4 rating by only a few points. It is the first time the rating has changed since the 1960s, according to Middlesboro Fire Department chief Tim Wilder.
Wilder said the road to the rating change started around June 1995 when the city was trying to figure out ways to get the classification rating changed. He said he wrote a letter to ISO and was told back then, if the rating was dropped, property owners could see a decrease in fire insurance ratings.
“I was told since then, things have changed, there could be some reduction, however, anytime you lower your fire protection classification ratings, when businesses or industry wants to move into your community, they ask what your classification rating is,” said Wilder. “Not only is there a possibility property owners might see a reduction in their property insurance but also, it's an incentive for any business or industry that wants to move in.”
He said ISO gave him a list of things they could be working on that would improve their chances of getting the rating changed. For the most part, the list of improvements dealt with equipment.
An ISO inspector came in and spent a week in Middlesboro, looking at the water systems, the fire departments, and the police departments. He also spent a day looking at structures in the area.
“It was a very extensive survey,” said Wilder. “This was proposed ten years ago to do this and it took a long time to do it. The upgrades on our water system helped out a whole lot, the new mains and fire hydrates also helped as well as all new equipment.”
Wilder said most cities have a class 9 rating. With the new 5 rating for Middlesboro, it puts the city in the 12 percent margin of all fire departments with that score.
Wilder said he plans to apply again for classification change to get a 4 rating in the next two or three years, especially since the city only missed it by a few credits. ISO recommended a training tower for the firefighters, which the city has plans to seek bids for.
“The tower would be a big boost in that direction,” he said. “Right now, we don't have anywhere for our firefighters to train on ladders.”
The facility is basically a fire simulator, Wilder said. Much like a tall building with a stairwell, it can be set on fire and firefighters enter the tower with full gear. It would teach them different drill tactics, water streaming techniques, and how to avoid potential life-threatening situations, such as back drafts and flash overs.
Safety director James Pursifull said last week that the reduction in fire insurance ratings could potentially save up to 15 percent for property owners.
In a letter dated March 7 to Mayor Ben Hickman, ISO notified the city of the classification change and said they will be advising all their subscribers of the change with in the next thirty-days. The effective date will be July 1.
“I think it's a good reflection on the city as a whole, I mean, it doesn't sound like it's a big deal but it's been the first time it's been changed in forty some years,” said Wilder. “And we are still going to try and get it dropped lower than this.”