Town Talk 02/12/20: Lower ISO Ratings = Savings for Homeowners, Businesses

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Vance County Fire Marshal Keith Duncan appeared on WIZS Town Talk Wednesday at 11 a.m. Duncan discussed the new insurance ratings for County fire departments, the addition of paid part-time personnel and plans for redistricting.

Insurance (ISO) Ratings:

After a county-wide review by the Department of Insurance Office of State Fire Marshal (OSFM) in October 2019, Duncan is pleased to announce that all inspected Vance County fire departments were able to reduce their ISO ratings.

The routine inspections look for proper staffing levels, sufficient equipment, proper maintenance of equipment, communications capabilities and availability of a water source, among other items.

Based on the outcome of these inspections, the North Carolina Response Rating System (NCRRS) assigns a score ranging from one (best) to 10 (not recognized as a certified fire department by the state), with most rural departments falling into the 9S category.

This score, in turn, determines the rating the Insurance Services Office (ISO) uses to charge homeowners and businesses for insurance.

“We have good news for the citizens of Vance County,” Duncan said. “We have reduced rates that just came in this week and will go into effect May 1 of this year. This means an insurance savings of approximately $150 or more for homeowners.”

Prior to the recent inspection, many County departments had an ISO rating of 9, meaning citizens in those districts paid more for homeowners insurance. Duncan said through the hard work of department staff and appropriate funding, all seven inspected departments were able to improve their score to a 5 or a 6.

New ratings are as follows:

Kittrell Fire District = 6

Golden Belt Fire District = 5

Drewry Fire District = 5

Cokesbury Fire District = 5

Townsville Fire District = 6

Watkins Fire District = 6

Hicksboro Fire District = 6

The Bearpond Fire Department and Epsom Fire Department are on a different schedule and have been previously inspected. The Bearpond rating is currently a 5 for residents within 1,000 feet of a hydrant. Epsom, a border department shared with Franklin County, is also currently ranked at a 5.

The previously mentioned ratings apply to County fire districts and departments and are not to be confused with the City of Henderson that currently has an ISO rating of 2.

Duncan credited increased funding, purchased equipment, training hours and a myriad of other items, including an increase in fire tax, for the improved scores.

“It took the increase in fire tax over the past couple of years to get appropriations for departments that were in such dire need of these funds to equip their stations, to get volunteers and part-time positions. The return residents are going to get from their ISO rates being lower should far exceed any tax increase they paid.”

Paid Part-Time Positions:

Briefly addressing the much-discussed move to fund paid part-time positions in volunteer fire departments, Duncan said the addition of personnel indirectly helped with the improved ISO grade but was never the primary mission.

Citing faster response times and the need for paid positions in a world with fewer volunteers, Duncan stated the move was a partnership between Vance County Commissioners and County departments.

“It has worked out so great for the citizens here. Response time has lowered in two of our districts – our most remote districts – by four to five minutes. When you talk about a loved one that’s having a heart attack or a wood fire that’s threatening a home, time is of the essence.”

Fire Redistricting:

Now that department inspections have been completed and updated ISO ratings released, Duncan expects the County to revisit redistricting talks that were “put on the back burner” last year.

“The reason redistricting ever came up was because we were looking at lowering response times and determining the closest department to come to your house or business,” Duncan explained. “It only makes sense that the closer they are, the faster they get there.”

The main area of focus is the five-mile overlap area between fire districts. “We were looking at which department could get to that overlap area faster and discussed adjusting the line pretty much halfway,” said Duncan.

“We were not going to do anything until we got the ISO rates back. We didn’t want to move anyone out of a 5 district and into a 9 district, for example, and cost them money. Now that we have the ratings back, moving the line should not be any trouble because the [insurance] savings will be virtually the same.”

To hear the interview with Duncan in its entirety, go to and click on Town Talk.

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