Macon aiming to preserve fire rating, keep insurance down

The Macon-Bibb County Fire Department is making changes in hopes of preserving the city’s class 1 Insurance Services Office rating.

The department recently received a preliminary report after a visit by ISO evaluators last summer. The report showed that the department fell just short of the score needed to keep the top ISO rating, Chief Marvin Riggins said. The ISO provides ratings for municipal and county fire departments to help insurance companies calculate premiums.

The city and county are graded on a 100-point scale that’s divided into categories for communications, the fire department and water supply. All told, Macon scored a 87.2, while Bibb County scored a 66.4.

A score of 90 is needed to preserve the city’s class 1 rating.

The county is now rated as a class 3/9. That means homes and businesses located in unincorporated Bibb County within 1.5 miles of a fire station with an engine company, 2.5 miles of a station with an aerial company and 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant are in class 3 zones. All other locations in the county are rated as a 9, Riggins said.

The county’s rating is lower than the city’s because fire stations are more scattered in the county than in the city.

Preserving a class 1 rating for Macon is important, said mayoral spokesman Andrew Blascovich.

“We’re not going to just leave it where it’s at,” he said. “We really feel it’s something that’s achievable.”

Riggins said changes at the 911 center alone could count for two additional points that could improve scores for both the city and county.

Changes being implemented to add points to Macon’s score, Riggins said, include:

— Weekly generator tests at the 911 center will be extended from 30 minutes to a full hour. A sign will be posted near an indicator light explaining that the generator is operating when the light is on.

— A monitor will be installed at the 911 center to alert dispatchers when the computer system malfunctions. Now, a message is sent to an off-site technician’s monitor.

— Firefighters will conduct more night training and document hazardous materials training.

— Extra equipment will be loaded on fire trucks.

Other problem areas identified by evaluators that caused points to be deducted included:

— 0.97 point for where fire stations are positioned in relationship to the areas they protect.

— 4.81 points for staffing levels. Evaluators want fire trucks staffed with six people instead of the department’s 4.3 average. Riggins said he wishes he could increase the staffing, but he believes the department can do an adequate job with the current staffing. He said he aims to recoup points by making changes that don’t have recurring costs.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends a minimum of four firefighters on most types of fire trucks, according to an online copy of the association’s standards.

— 1.88 points for the water system.

— 1.88 points for an area near Mumford Road and Napier Avenue that has an adequate water supply, but fewer firefighters to protect the area because of station locations. “Our water supply is better than our ability to use it,” Riggins said. He said he believes the area is protected well by firefighters at surrounding stations and changes aren’t needed.

— 1.08 points for firefighter training.

Acquiring land for a new fire station near Bass Road and Interstate 75 could also help the county’s score, Bibb County Commissioner Joe Allen said.

The planned addition of a new engine company assigned to the Thomaston Road fire station in July could also bump up the county’s score, Riggins said.

Evaluators are scheduled to return in July to re-evaluate and take into account any changes the city makes before issuing a new score, he said.

It’s been 13 years since ISO evaluators came to Macon and Bibb County. Generally, the area is inspected once every 10 years, but an ISO delay pushed back the evaluation, Riggins said.

If the city maintains a class 1 rating, evaluators will return more quickly because of a new policy that requires class 1 areas to be evaluated every three years instead of 10.

Evaluators have expressed an interest in combining the city and county for a single score when they return in three years. If that happens, Macon’s class 1 rating might again be in jeopardy, Riggins said.

Allen said he hopes that having a plan in place for new fire stations in the county will make a difference. Riggins has said he hopes to build three new stations by 2014.

“This is a No. 1 priority for health, and it’s beneficial for taxes,” Allen said. “This is something we can do, but we’ve got to keep the politics out of it.”

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was included in this report.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.