Capt. Joey Baxa, Chief J.B. Kimble and Buckhannon Mayor Robbie Skinner announce the Buckhannon Fire Department's shift to a Class 3 ISO rating, which could potentially save residents in the city and first-due area some money on their homeowner's insurance. / Photo by Katie Kuba

Buckhannon’s ISO rating has improved, which could translate into a property insurance discount for some residents

BUCKHANNON – The Buckhannon Fire Department’s ISO rating has gone down a level, which means the amount some residents pay for homeowners’ insurance could decrease, too.

At Buckhannon City Council’s Jan. 5 meeting, Buckhannon Fire Chief J.B. Kimble and mayor Robbie Skinner announced that after its most recent evaluation, the City of Buckhannon’s Insurance Services Office rating improved with the city’s Public Protection Class rating decreasing from a Class 5 to a Class 3.

That’s good news for homeowners, who, depending on their insurance company, may be able to secure a 10 percent discount.

The new Public Protection Class 3 rating went into effect Jan. 1, 2023.

“We have some very good news to present: The City of Buckhannon, like every community in the country, is rated [based on] the fire service as well as the water service, and that rating produces an ISO rating for your community, and that affects your homeowner’s insurance policies,” Skinner said. “When myself and Mr. (CJ) Rylands became council members in 2016, we were a protection Class 5.”

Skinner said the scale runs from 1-10, with Class 1 being the best and Class 10 the least favorable. Prior to Jan. 1, 2023, the city was ranked Class 4.

“We [had been] a protection Class 4 – 1 is the best and 10 is the worst – but tonight we announce very proudly that we are a protection Class 3 community,” Skinner said. “We are actually a very strong 3, so we’re only six points away from a Class 2, so that gives us some things to work on. Once we get a full-fledged [fire] training facility up and running, that will give us significant points toward becoming a 2 which the council is supportive of, and we’ve had multiple discussions around that topic.”

According to information on isomitigation.com, ISO fire ratings indicate how prepared a community is for fires. The Insurance Services Office utilizes a Fire Suppression Rating Scale to determine what Public Protection Class a fire department’s district falls into. Bankrate.com says ISO evaluators examine three factors prior to issuing an ISO rating: local emergency communications; fire department equipment/operations; and water supply.

“We want to thank our fire department for all the work that they do year-in and year-out as well as our water department,” Skinner said. “You can’t put a fire out without water and also you can’t put a fire out without great equipment and even better professionals on staff. This is a community effort.”

Skinner elaborated on how the newly issued ISO rating could impact both residential and commercial property owners’ insurance rates.

“What these numbers represent is on residential property insurance, each classification reduction, depending on your insurance company, can be a 10 percent savings per year on your coverage,” Skinner said. “On commercial, it can be up to 25 percent savings depending on what size commercial development that you have, so it’s a cost-saving measure and a benefit for our community.”

Skinner also said an improved ISO rating could positively impact the Buckhannon-Upshur community’s ability to attract new businesses.

“The other side of the coin is, there are Fortune 500 companies that will not even begin to look at a community to locate in unless your community protection class is a 3 or better, so this is really important for us, and I’m certainly very proud of our fire department, as I know all of our council members are as well, and the work that they have put in to make this happen,” the mayor added.

Councilman CJ Rylands asked whether the new ISO rating applies to just properties within city limits or also extends to all those located within the city fire department’s first-due area.

Kimble said the new rating also applies to the department’s first-due area, the zone that lies outside city limits but still falls within the BFD’s primary area of responsibility.

“The people outside the city limits get the same rating as the people inside the city limits,” Kimble answered.

Rylands asked if people needed to contact their insurance providers in order to receive a possible discount, and Kimble recommended residents do so if they don’t see a slight drop in their property insurance.

“Most insurance companies use ISO as their go-to, so if you have homeowner’s insurance, as of 1-1-2023, we are a Class 3,” the fire chief said. “I want to thank council for your backing, and I want to thank the Water Department. Jerry Wamsley (the city’s assistant water department superintendent) attended our ISO class that we had a little over a year ago, and we really went in-depth on what the Water Department needed to do. The 911 Center did what they needed to do, and it’s great news, but we still have room to improve.”

Kimble said the proposed live fire training facility the city hopes to build with assistance from the Upshur County Commission, on Mud Lick Road could potentially decrease the department’s ISO rating even further.

“The training facility will be huge, but we have to have a year’s worth of data to prove how much we are using it and show that a fire truck is out there, so it can be utilized as a substation,” he said.

Kimble said evaluators noted the department had “room for improvement” in three categories: training, deployment (the distances between fire stations), and manpower/staffing. According to documents provided in council’s packet, the assessment focused on community risk reduction in addition to the operations of the city’s water department, fire department and the Upshur County E911 Communication Center.

Buckhannon earned 73.38 points out of the possible 105.5 points, qualifying it as Public Protection Class 3 entity. Skinner said the classification improvement places the city fire department in the top 10 percent of all fire departments in the Mountain State.

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