By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Dec. 4, 2017 | 2:35 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – When considering somewhere to move, many people look at the quality of schools, access to amenities, local tax rates, and other criteria before making their selection.
A lesser discussed, but equally important consideration is access to fire services, which can play a key role in how much a prospective homeowner will pay for their homeowner’s insurance, as a change in a community’s rating can result in substantial increases or reductions to premiums.
The responsibility of making improvements to the county’s overall Public Protection Classification or PPC falls on Prince George Fire and EMS Director Brad Owens and his staff and, during this month’s board of supervisors meeting, he walked through the county’s new rating, which remains relatively flat compared to previous years.
The ratings are provided by ISO, a subsidiary of Verisk Analytics, who, according to their website, is “a leading data analytics provider serving customers in insurance, natural resources, and financial services.”
ISO’s Public Protection Classification program “collects information about municipal fire protection efforts in communities throughout the United States,” including Prince George County and others. In each of those communities, ISO’s staff analyzes the data, which falls into a number of categories, and assigns a PPC number, or ranking between one and ten, with a Class 1 community “generally represents superior property fire protection, and Class 10 indicates that the area’s fire suppression program does not meet ISO’s minimum criteria.”
During Owen’s detailed presentation, he walked through the newest numbers from ISO’s analysis, noting improvements and small reductions in some categories.
While the county’s rating in community risk reduction and emergency communications remained the same as the most recent rating in 2014, there was a slight reduction in the county’s fire department rating in ISO’s analysis, which Owens said was due to some issues with reactivations and the amount of personnel available at times.
Overall, the county’s PPC placed it in a Class 5/5y ranking in ISO’s analysis. According to Owens, had the county reached Class 4, “the county would’ve seen a homeowner[‘s insurance] premium decrease.”
“Everyone wants to be a Class 1 community,” Owens said. According to data provided by Verisk, “Out of nearly 50,000 graded fire departments in the United States, less than 150 have earned the highest ranking of Class 1.”
Owens reported the closest Class 1 community to Prince George is Henrico County, noting they had just attained the classification in the past year.
Prince George’s Class 5/5y rating is in line with its neighbors to the north and west, with Hanover, Dinwiddie, and Powhatan all receiving similar classifications.
Chesterfield is a Class 2 community, one short of Class 1 status and Goochland rests one class below Prince George at Class 6.
Even though Prince George County is among 9,200 communities in America receiving a Class 5 ranking, Owens said he and his staff are focused on improving their classification in future assessments to help improve safety and lower premiums for county homeowners.
Among the improvements, Owens noted enhancements to the county’s Emergency Medical Dispatching or EMD has paid dividends for the county’s safety efforts.
In addition, Owens said the county’s fire services are working to improve the recording of training being done by both fulltime and volunteer firefighters. One of the ways they are addressing that is by bringing on a dedicated training person who will help the county’s fire services meet recording requirements, with that data then being compiled into an end-of-year report.
“We know they are doing the training, we just have to change the culture in order to get people to know that they need to report it,” Owens said.
He went on to credit the automatic aid agreement with Hopewell and regular hydrant flushing and inspections with helping the county maintain it’s current Class 5 classification and as a foundation to continue their push toward Class 4.
In order to reach Class 4 classification, Owens admits there are areas for improvement within the county’s fire services. One of those areas is within emergency communications and working to meet the standards laid out in NFPA 1221, which deals with the installation, maintenance, and use of emergency services communications systems.
According to industry publication Firehouse, the lengthy NFPA 1221 establishes standards for several areas of emergency response, namely call-handling times, staffing, data security, and community coordination, among others.
Owens added that the department plans to incorporate some cross-training in an effort to get more dispatchers on board and the construction of training facilities, like the new burn building under development in Prince George, would help to lift the county’s classification up to Class 4.
In terms of the county’s water system and how it is utilized by emergency services, Owens noted the need to improve the number of hydrants that are within 1,000 feet of buildings along with making sure those hydrants are connected to distribution systems that are designed to flow a minimum of 3,500 gallons per minute.
Finally, Owens expects increased routine fire inspections and a formalized investigations program would serve to help the county raise its rating and further improve public safety.
As his presentation concluded, Owens explained raising the county’s PPC rating is about balancing what the county wants with what it can afford.
“We could design a complete fire system that would get us a Class 1 classification, but the price tag would be significant,” Owens told supervisors during their work session.
Owens did say the newly approved Station 7 along Route 10 and Moody Road would help reduce home premiums in the area for homeowners as, once it is completed, it would provide suitable fire coverage for an area that doesn’t currently have it but, it would not provide additional points to the county’s PPC rating.
When asked by Supervisor Alan Carmichael if these ratings are actually reviewed by insurers in order to determine homeowner’s insurance premiums, Owens said the department “does get requests on fire protection,” adding that “the more established [insurance companies] have the information already, but it is up to the homeowner to check if their company does have the information.”
According to Verisk, the producers of the PPC ratings, “Virtually all U.S. insurers of homes and business property use ISO’s Public Protection Classifications in calculating premiums.”
“In general, the price of fire insurance in a community with a good PPC is substantially lower than in a community with a poor PPC, assuming all other factors are equal,” the company said.
Verisk said on their website that it “does not supply Public Protection Classifications to policyholders or the general public,” instead, they direct the general public to their “property insurance company or agent.”