After placing an emphasis on improving the ISO rating of the St. Francois County 911 Communications Center, the 911 board at a monthly meeting learned that it has seen a marked improvement in its standing that will in turn assist communities throughout the county in improving their ISO ratings as well.
A company called the ISO — Insurance Services Office — creates ratings for fire departments and their surrounding communities. The ratings calculate how well-equipped fire departments are to put out fires in that community. The ISO provides this score, often called the “ISO fire score,” to homeowners’ insurance companies.
The insurers then use it to help set homeowners insurance rates. The more well-equipped a fire department is to put out a fire, the less likely a homeowner’s house is to burn down — and that makes the home less risky, and therefore less expensive, to insure.
Speaking about the improvement in the 911 center’s ISO score, board President Ron Bockenkamp said, “There was the whole issue in May 2016 about ISO inspections. There was an issue in Bonne Terre where reference was made about shortcomings on the part of our operation in providing adequate information to the city for its inspection.
“I looked into that and became more sensitive to the fact of how important the ISO inspection is because the results can have a dramatic impact on insurance rates for the business community and for the citizens as a whole.
“I appointed Farmington Fire Chief Todd Mecey and Bonne Terre/Big River Fire Chief David Pratte as co-chairmen of my ISO committee. They in turn, with a great deal of input by our deputy director, Tina Harris, put together an operating manual based on what we knew the ISO would be looking at, particularly on our side of the picture.”
According to Bockenkamp, the recent Leadington inspection saw a dramatic improvement in the 911 Communication Center’s standing from before.
“In fact, overall, Leadington did well,” he said. “There are other categories that the inspector looks at, but there is a portion of that which directly impacts the 911 operation. The points available in that category are 10 — and the 911 center rated 9.55.”
Discussing in greater detail the changes made by the 911 center for ISO inspections, Chief Mecey said, “Basically, ISO is broken into three components: fire service, water distribution and communications. It’s a 100-point scale. The fire department is responsible for 50 of the 100 points. The water service in the area is responsible for 40 of the 100. Communications is responsible for 10. Each has a part.
“Zero to 10 points would get you a rating of a 10 and it goes up from there. Like the city of Farmington — we’re an ISO 4. The last time that we were rated, we missed going to a 3 by probably a third of one point. It goes through the fire department’s individual components’ capabilities, distribution, equipment — I mean there’s a lot of things that go into each individual rating.”
Asked what effect an ISO rating has on a businesses’ or individual’s insurance rate, Mecey said, “When we put the numbers to it, about 90+ percent of all insurance agencies use ISO as a rating tool. There are a few insurance agencies that do their own individual rating. Some of them kind of use the ISO scale, but not fully. In 1998, Farmington went from a 6 to a 4. That translated into roughly a half-million dollars’ worth of a years’ savings on insurance for the entire community because of their ISO rating. An ISO doesn’t technically give you anything, however, the individual insurance companies use that rating to determine how much you’re going to pay.”
According to Mecey, a home or business that is five miles from a fire station receives a 10 ISO rating. He described the difference between a 10 and 4 rating as “significant” when it comes to the cost of purchasing insurance coverage.
“As far as the 911 center, last time I want to say we were around 6.2 points on the 10-point scale,” he said. “We went up to like a 9.55. Since then we’ve determined we might be able to get that last four-tenths of a point to get real close or be at a 10, but we won’t be able to do that. You can just call and say, ‘Hey, we found this. Can you change it?’ It would be the next time somebody gets a rating within St. Francois or Ste. Genevieve County.
“Basically, we went a solid over 3, almost 4 points, at the center. So, we went from getting about 55 to 60 percent of the available credit to get 95 percent. In the world of ISO, communities spend large sums of money to try to get that extra point up there. I mean, when you start getting up into those higher ratings there’s significant expense in trying to gain an additional point. So, by this 3.5 to 4 points gain at the 911 center, it’s going to make a huge improvement.
“We’ve taken the 911 center up and it’s higher in the point percentage than we’re ever going to get any of our local fire departments or water distribution systems. There are very few ISO 1 communities in the United States and that means they’re receiving between 90 and 100 of the total points.
“Now our 911 center is running at a Level 1 ISO whereas the fire departments and water distribution services are all less than that. We’re in a great place. My goal in working on the ISO was that we’d end up between 7.5 and 8.5 — or between 75 to 80 percent of the total points. We ended up at 95 percent, so I’m very happy. We beat our goal.”
In other action, the board accepted the resignation of board member Wendell Jarvis of Bismarck who informed the board he had taken a job that will involve extensive traveling, making him unable to regularly attend 911 meetings.
In light of Jarvis’ resignation, the board voted unanimously to fill his vacancy with Kenny Wakefield who will finish out the approximately three years remaining of Jarvis’ term. Wakefield is a retired member of the Missouri State Highway Patrol and currently a detective with the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department.
“We ended up at 95 percent, so I’m very happy. We beat our goal.” — Todd Mecey, Farmington fire chief
Kevin R. Jenkins is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-756-8927 or email@example.com