Local fire districts undergo statewide testing

A collection of fire trucks from throughout Caswell, Person, Orange, and Rockingham Counties convened at Prospect Hill Volunteer Fire Department this past weekend for ISO rating testing with the North Carolina Office of Fire Marshal. The ISO rating process is intended not only to help local rural fire districts improve their service, but also to potentially lower homeowner insurance rates in the community. 

On the morning of Saturday, August 25, a large collection of volunteer firefighters from throughout Caswell County and surrounding communities made their way to the Prospect Hill Fire Department for the first round of testing in the county’s ISO inspection process. 

Caswell County, despite being entirely made up of non-municipally funded volunteer fire districts, is undergoing the ISO inspection process in order to improve its service to the local community, while also potentially reducing the home insurance liability on local consumers. 

The ISO inspection process has been two years in the making, as local firefighters countywide have been undergoing specialized training in order to help maximize the ISO rating scores that were tested over the weekend. ISO representative Tom Ramp joined numerous state fire officials at Saturday’s testing. Also on hand were a pair of Caswell County Commissioners - Sterling Carter and Rick McVey - as well as County Manager Bryan Miller. 

It’s a unique thing to see rural volunteer firemen, without necessarily the pressure that larger municipally-funded fire districts have to maintain certain ISO rating, undergoing training and testing that typically only takes place within larger, more heavily-populated fire districts around the state. It seemed to inspire the state fire inspection officials on hand at Saturday’s testing. 

“It’s been a long time coming. I’ve got more training hours up here in Caswell County than I’ve got at my own fire department back home,” Vernon Ward, Senior Field Inspector for the North Carolina Office of State Fire Marshal said. “I’ve been up here the last two years, helping get this going. “We’d like to use you all as an example with other counties to do this. Because this really helps us out, and hopefully it helps you all out,”

“I want to thank you all a whole lot for getting prepared and doing this as a whole. I think in a month or so, when we come back, I think we’re gonna see good fruit to bear,” Ward added. 

“Vernon has got a property tax assessment from the county office, but I took care of it for him,” Vernon Massengill of the Yanceyville Fire Department joked.

“We do this from Murphy to Manteo,” added Derrick Clouston, Deputy Director of Fire and Rescue Training at OSFM. “And to see this type of dedication in what you’re doing for your community and your county, it’s unreal. On behalf of (N.C. Insurance) Commissioner (Mike) Causey, and the whole Office of the State Fire Marshal, we just want to say thank you for having our staff here. Thank you for the warmth you’ve shown us.” 

“We’re looking forward to seeing what kind of fruit this bears,” Clouston added. “Because I’m gonna tell you - this is unheard of, what you’re doing. You’re making history. And I want to congratulate you on being willing to step forward and do this is a community. We just want to thank you for all your help and all your hard work.” 

Fire districts across North Carolina are given insurance ratings from 1 to 9, with 1 being the best possible score. Some of the factors that go into Ratings Inspections includes Emergency Communications, Fire Departments, local water supplies, and community risk reduction. 

Scores of 1 typically only go to large urban fire districts. In North Carolina, the Charlotte Fire Department holds the only Class 1 ISO rating. Seven fire districts across the state hold a 2 ISO rating - almost all large, densely populated cities such as Raleigh, Durham, and Greensboro, among others. 

Numerous rural fire districts across the state have an ISO rating of 9 - the lowest possible score. Factors that typically result in a 9 ISO rating include long distances to make service calls, a lack of water supply, and districts only having one or two fire trucks to respond to calls. 

Although multiple Caswell County fire districts have a rating of 9, the ISO inspection process could move certain local districts up to an ISO rating of 7, which could save homeowners approximately $75 dollars per $100,000 of home value in home insurance premiums. 

“We’re doing just like we’ve been practicing for two years,” said Massengill to the assembled firemen. “Today’s the day we’ve been working for for a long time. You’ve practiced hard. You’ve done well. We just need to show these guys. Don’t be scared of these (state inspection) guys. I know most of these guys. Most of these guys have been in the position we’re in. They want to help us.”

Some of the fire departments that were represented at the ISO inspection included Yanceyville, Prospect Hill, Providence, Roxboro, Yanceyville, Hurdle Mills, Boonsboro, Cherry Grove, Leasburg, Casville, Williamsburg, CEFFO Fire/Rescue, Semora, Pelham, Ruffin, and Milton. 

Caswell, Orange, Person, and Rockingham Counties were all represented. 

“I’d like to thank the out-of-county guys. I think we’ve got Williamsburg here. Ruffin is here. Hurdle Mills is here. Yanceyville Road and Roxboro, and CEFFO,” Massengill said. 

Testing field sites were located at Ridgefield Road, Baldwin Farm, Kimbro Road, and along Old Highway 62. The dump site was at Kimbro Road, while the fill site was along Old Highway 62. 

Tests included filling trucks, dumping trucks, driving the truck against a running clock, handling hoses, and dealing with suction, among other challenges. Drivers were timed in 200-foot increments, whether they were dumping items or filling up.

At the fill site, the timing started when the trucks started moving, prompted by a whistle. When the truck was filled up, the drivers were able to leave. At the dump sites, inspection officials monitored how quickly - and how safely - the firefighters conducted their dumps. 

Upon leaving Ridgefield Road, there was a dump tank along the Painter Road extension. 

“We just need you to get rid of your water - most of it - before the next fill site,” Massengill explained. 

“The biggest thing is safety,” Ward said. “There’s a lot of trucks moving, a lot of stuff going on. So the priority of this whole exercise is safety. You want to get good times. You want to do things correctly. But we’ve got to do it safely.”

Fire personnel handling hose and setting up drills during the field site setups were required to be in boots, bunker pants, helmets with chin straps fastened, and gloves. Observers were required to wear traffic vests. 

“We’ve got to record these times. Of course, the better the time, the better,” Ward continued. “But the biggest thing is being safe.” 

Massengill thanked the Prospect Hill Fire Department not only for helping set up the ISO inspection by getting everyone together and organizing the trucks, but by providing a meal for the firefighters and the state inspection officials. 

“I’d like to thank Prospect Hill Fire Department. These guys have been so good as to do this. They got all our trucks lined up,” Massengill said. 

In approximately a month, the ISO officials will be back in Caswell County to provide data from the testing session, and to let local fire officials know the areas in which they need to improve to get better ISO ratings in the future.