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Fire Rating$: How your fire department rates could impact what you pay for insurance

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HAMPTON, Va. - The Hampton Division of Fire and Rescue has a lot to be proud of these days thanks a new rating from the Insurance Services Office.

As of April 1, Hampton's ISO rating of "1" is officially in effect. The Class 1 rating is the highest score a fire protection community can receive.

The Insurance Services Office evaluates fire protection efforts throughout the country. They rate agencies on a scale of 1–10, with "1" being the best.

Battalion Chief Anthony Chittum says the department was last evaluated in 1986 when they received a "4" and a lot went into the improved ranking.

"It's based on a number of factors, water supply is one of them, the water system. The equipment that you see behind us here is another part. Since 1986 technology has changed, so has communications, all of these are factors based in that," Chittum told NewsChannel 3's Todd Corillo.

"Our pumps for example are 1500 gallon per minute pumps. We staff our engines with 3 people, our ladder trucks with 4. Our nozzles on this particular piece of equipment are capable of 2000 gallons per minute. Our alerting system. Everything from our radio communications the 800 megahertz system we use to the alert system and the redundancy behind that all play a factor," he added.

web storyHampton joined Newport News in being just one of a handful of fire departments in Virginia to receive a "1" rating.

"Less than 200 departments in the country have an ISO rating of "1," when you take that into the number of 48,000 fire departments across the country, it’s a pretty substantial, elite group," Chittum commented.

The Portsmouth Fire Department received a "2" ranking from ISO in May of 2015.

Chesapeake and Norfolk both received a "3" when they completed the process in 2015.

Suffolk was last evaluated in 1996 when they received a split 4/9 and they are gearing up for a new evaluation soon.

Virginia Beach just completed a new evaluation at the end of 2015. The new rating went into effect May 1 and divides the city in half. A "2" was assigned for property within 5 miles of a fire station and 1,000 feet from a fire hydrant, while a "5" was given to those properties within the 5 miles of a fire station but without hydrants. You can read more about the Virginia Beach evaluation process below.

A better rating can lead to insurance benefits too.

"The ISO rating helps out businesses and our homeowners. It has the potential to decrease the liability in their homeowner or business insurance just do to the ability that the city has to offer them services," Chittum explained.

Jason Armogida is the Managing Agent of 360 Insurance Services in Virginia Beach. He says the impact can depend on your carrier and there are many factors that go into premiums, but a good fire rating certainly helps.

"It can make a big impact on insurance rates. Insurance rates can be much higher if you’re further away from a fire hydrant, further away from a fire department. So it’s all about how quickly services can put the fire out in your home among many other rating factors," he stated.

The evaluation from the Insurance Services Office Public Protection Classification program can be complex.

NewsChannel 3 asked Robert Andrews, Vice President of Community Hazard Mitigation at ISO to break it down. Here's what he sent us:

Using the ISO Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS), ISO’s Public Protection Classification (PPC) program helps insurance companies measure and evaluate the major elements of a community's fire suppression system. The PPC program evaluates and reinforces the importance of key areas of fire protection:

  • Emergency communications (10%) — 911 telephone systems, adequacy of telephone lines, operator supervision and staffing, and the dispatching hardware and software systems
  • Fire department (50%) — adequacy of equipment, sufficient staffing, evaluation of training, existence of automatic aid, and geographic distribution of fire companies
  • Water supply (40%)— condition and maintenance of hydrants, existence of alternative sources, and a careful evaluation of the amount of available water — in volume and pressure — compared with the amount needed to suppress fires

ISO analyzes this information and assigns an advisory number from 1 to 10.  Class 1 generally represents exemplary fire protection and Class 10 indicates that the community's fire suppression program does not meet ISO’s minimum criteria. PPC Classes are assigned to communities based on the protection area of a fire department.

The minimum criteria include:

The community must have a fire department organized permanently under applicable state or local laws. The organization must include one person responsible for the operation of the department, usually with the title of "chief."

The fire department must serve an area with definite boundaries. If a community does not have a fire department operated solely by or for the governing body of that community, the fire department providing such service must do so under legal contract or resolution. When a fire department's service area involves more than one community, each of the communities served should have a contract.

The department must have sufficient membership to assure the response of at least four members to structure fires. The chief may be one of the responding members.

The fire department must conduct training for active members, at least two hours every two months.

Alarm notification
Alarm facilities and arrangements must be such that there is no delay in the receipt of alarms and the dispatch of firefighters and apparatus.

The department must have at least one piece of apparatus meeting the general criteria of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1901, Automotive Fire Apparatus.

The department must house apparatus to provide protection from the weather.

If the community does not meet these minimum criteria, ISO will assign the community a Class 10.

Properties that are over 5 road miles from a recognized fire station would also be considered Class 10.

The PPC program recognizes the efforts of communities to provide fire protection services for citizens and property owners. A community's investment in fire mitigation is a proven and reliable predicator of future fire losses. Therefore, many insurance companies offer reduced premiums in communities with better fire protection as measured under the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule.  By offering economic benefits for communities that invest in firefighting services, the program provides a real incentive for improving and maintaining public fire protection.

The City of Virginia Beach underwent the ISO evaluation process at the end of 2015. They provided this information about what went into their process and what it means for citizens.

Understanding the PPC Rating:

In order to establish a rating ISO staff is required to visit the community to observe and evaluate features of the fire protection systems. The ratings range from 10 to 1, with 1 representing the most effective fire protection.  Using the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS), ISO objectively evaluates four major areas:

  • Emergency communications systems
    A review of the emergency communications systems accounts for 10 points of the total classification. The review focuses on the community's facilities and support for handling and dispatching alarms for structure fires.
  • Fire department
    A review of the fire department accounts for 50 points of the total classification. ISO focuses on a community's fire suppression capabilities. We measure suppression capabilities based on the fire department's first-alarm response and initial attack to minimize potential loss. Here, ISO reviews such items as engine companies, ladder or service companies, deployment of fire companies, equipment carried on apparatus, pumping capacity, reserve apparatus, company personnel, and training.
  • Water supply
    A review of the water supply system accounts for 40 points of the total classification. ISO evaluates the community's water supply system to determine the adequacy for fire suppression purposes. We also consider hydrant size, type, and installation, as well as the frequency and completeness of hydrant inspection and flow-testing programs.
  • Community risk reduction
    A review of the community's risk reduction efforts is conducted and credit can be earned in the Community Risk Reduction section, which allows for extra credit of up to 5.5 points for a potential total of 105.5. This section takes into account fire prevention code adoption and enforcement, public fire safety education, and fire investigation.


History of ISO in Virginia Beach:

The Virginia Beach Fire Department was rated in 1983 by the Insurance Services Office and received a rating of 4/9 since that date the City has been statistically rated meaning it received a multiplier based on the rating of the other rated communities in the Commonwealth.  Many Insurance agencies continued to simply use the 4/9 rating.  The split rating represents the level of fire protection in two distinct service areas.  The first number is the rating for property in an area that is located within 5 road miles of a fire station and 1000ft of a credible water supply.  The second number represents the rating for property within 5 road miles of a fire station but greater than 1000ft from a credible water supply.  In most cases a community that has an area without hydrants is rated with an X or Y split rating meaning they receive insurances rates similar to a community with an 8 or 10 rating.  The X/Y system simply acknowledges the effectiveness of the response agency while recognizing increased loss potential due to the lack of available water.  If we had shown no improvement from our previous rating under this new FSRS the City of Virginia Beach would have been classified as a 4/X.

*In all cases an address that is greater than five road miles from a fire station is considered a class 10 PPC.  The ISO has always followed this proximity rule therefore no matter the score the City receives if you are more than 5 miles from a fire station you are rated a PPC 10.

Where we are today:

At the end of 2015 the Virginia Beach Fire Department requested an evaluation from the ISO.  However, the new rating does not go into effect until May 1, 2016 to allow time for the Fire department to ensure the report is accurate and in alignment with the information we provided to the evaluator.  There were some errors identified and we are currently working with the ISO to make corrections.  These corrections may or may not equate to enough points to change the overall rating.

Good News:

The evaluator found that our efforts to improve water carrying capacity in our non-hydranted area were excellent.  For these reason he was able to rate the non-hydranted area above the normal X/Y system that is currently used in communities without hydrants.

For the new PPC the City is divided in half.  The first PPC applies to property in an area with fire hydrants and the second PPC applies to property without fire hydrants.

  • We received a Class 2 PPC for all property within 5 miles of a fire station and 1000ft from a fire hydrant.
  • We received a Class 5 PPC for all property within 5 miles of a fire station in the non-hydrant area.
  • Property outside of the 5 mile protection area (greater than 5 road miles from a fire station) is a PPC 10.

Community Impact:

With the understanding that all insurance providers are different and some weight PPC ratings heavier than others, we can only speculate about the insurance savings our citizens and business owners will receive.  Based on research done by other communities after changes to their PPC ratings we can make the following statements.

  • The improvement to a PPC 2 represents about $50-100 in the pockets of residents/business owners in the area formerly rated a PPC 4.
  • PPC 5 represents approximately $200-500 in the pockets of residents in the south who live within 5 miles of a fire station.
  • This of course is dependent on the value of your property and the insurance carriers reliance on ISO PPC ratings.  In general communities who go from a 4 to a 2 report 6-8% savings on insurance.
  • Class 1 and 2 departments are viewed generally the same in the insurance industry.

We feel this demonstrates a significant return on investment for the apparatus expenditures the county.  The Fire Department has made a commitment to provide a high level of fire protection with limited resources and stations in the southern part of the city.  The ISO evaluator remarked that it is rare for an organization to demonstrate the ability to effectively move water and maintain fire flow in an area without supplied fire hydrants.


The PPC plays a vital role in calculating and underwriting insurance premiums for residents, property owners, and businesses located in the City of Virginia Beach. Most insurance companies use PPC information as an integral part of deciding what businesses to underwrite, what types of coverage to offer, and overall premium costs.

Only 2.7% of fire departments in the Nation are rated a Class 2 or above (less than 0.5% of those are rated a PPC 1). This level of achievement is only possible through our commitment to continuous improvement in fire response and community risk reduction coupled with strong collaborative relationships with the City’s Water Management Department and the Emergency Communications & Citizen Services Center. The better the class rating a city achieves, the better the outcome for homeowners and business owners who are paying insurance premiums.  The information gathered by the ISO provides us with valuable insight into the risk of fire loss within the City of Virginia Beach.  Much like the CFAI Accreditation process the department can use this feedback to benchmark our performance, measure program effectiveness, and plan for future improvements.

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