By Robert L. Andrews
The views and positions expressed in this editorial are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of VFIS, our clients and the whole emergency services community. Contributing articles authored by independent individuals are provided to foster situational awareness and highlight current issues, questions and concerns for discussion within emergency service organizations.
The basics of firefighting largely have remained the same for years: respond to fires quickly and protect life and property. However, the tactics, technology and equipment are continually changing.
The fire service has seen numerous advances in recent years. Computer-aided dispatch technologies (such as CAD with Management Information System, CAD with Interoperability and Geographic Information Systems, suction and delivery rate capabilities and other improvements for areas lacking pressurized hydrants) are changing the face of firefighting. And ISO’s Public Protection Classification (PPC™) recognizes advances such as those through periodic revisions. The ISO PPC program differentiates 10 classes of community structural fire protection — evaluating everything from fire department equipment, staffing levels and training to the availability and adequacy of water supply and emergency communication centers. Whether a community receives a Class 1 rating, which is a superior level of protection, or Class 10, which reflects unrecognized protection, the community, its residents, businesses, government leaders and insurers can better understand their relative fire protection status.
Municipalities Benefit from Investments in Firefighting Capabilities
Beyond helping highlight a community’s fire safety, a PPC review can serve as an added incentive for a town to improve its fire protection. Fire officials are aware that a class improvement could result in lowering insurance premiums for homeowners and businesses. And municipal governments recognize that spending tax dollars on the right firefighting priorities and equipment can potentially provide a financial benefit for their citizens.
During tough economic times, municipalities resort to belt-tightening that eases only a bit when it comes to essential services. Yet, spending money on fire protection and prevention is increasingly also seen as an economic
development tool. Municipalities and chambers of commerce are not only taking notice — they’re also starting to lead the way. Towns are increasingly publicizing their PPC class as a means to help attract and retain businesses.
The most recent PPC data on nearly 50,000 fire districts shows that the number of districts in Classes 1 through 5 went up from 26 percent in 2004 to 43 percent in 2015, while districts in Classes 8 through 10 went down from 41 percent to 30 percent.
Cities and towns are holding press conferences to announce a new, lower PPC class. For example, the website for the city of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, touts its rating, stating that the PPC “designation means lower fire insurance premiums for commercial businesses and industries, which vastly improves the community’s economic development prospects.” Similarly, the website for Temple Terrace, Florida, notes, "The ISO rating … is an important incentive to economic development as the city attracts new businesses and oversees the expansion of existing businesses.”
A Framework for Firefighting
ISO’s Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS) is the manual for reviewing firefighting capabilities and determining the appropriate PPC class. To create a framework for a revised FSRS, ISO worked closely with fire chiefs, insurers, regulators at all levels, and fire protection and code enforcement experts. The FSRS incorporates national standards from, among others, the National Fire Protection Association, the American Water Works Association and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International so that the evaluations might best reflect modern fire prevention and suppression capabilities.
The revised FSRS went into effect in 2013 with changes that added an emphasis on a community’s efforts to limit loss before an actual fire event. For those familiar with the previous version, the FSRS continues to evaluate three major categories of fire suppression: emergency communications, fire departments and water supply. However, it now includes a new community risk reduction section regarding community efforts to reduce losses through fire prevention, public fire safety education and fire investigation. That addition represents a shift in emphasis, crediting points for those communities that strive proactively to reduce fire severity through a
structured program of fire prevention activities.
Awareness Is Paying Off
More and more people are becoming aware of the safety and financial impact of fires. Municipal budget priorities may have to accommodate those new realities. Economic development agencies, chambers of commerce
and individual commercial building owners are recognizing the appeal of doing business in a well-protected, well-equipped community and are being proactive in their communities’ risk reduction.
Robert L. Andrews is vice president and chief field operations officer of ISO Community Hazard Mitigation, a Verisk Analytics business. He is responsible for countrywide implementation of ISO’s PPC program. www.isomitigation.com