Local fire departments improved their service in recent years, and it could lead to lower insurance rates for some Wake County property owners.
The Insurance Services Office, which grades fire departments based on response times and other factors, boosted the scores of nearly 20 Wake County departments. The ISO gives grades on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being the best possible score.
The Raleigh and Cary departments over the last two years earned scores of 1. Garner and Wendell fire departments earned 2s. Apex, Morrisville, Rolesville and Zebulon have ratings of 3.
Property owners in fire districts with lower scores typically enjoy lower insurance rates. But commercial properties are more affected by score changes than residential properties, according to Nick Campasano, director of Wake County Fire Services.
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“Residential annual fire insurance reductions stop once the ISO ratings reach a 6. In other words, residential fire insurance rates do not go down any further after a fire department has improved to Class 6,” Campasano said. “Commercial occupancies, however, can realize a reduction in their fire insurance as a fire department improves their ISO ratings.”
The Durham Highway, Rolesville Rural and Western Wake fire departments are the only county stations that improved their grades from above a 6 to below since 2014. Each is among the 12 or so nonprofit fire departments across the county that are funded by local governments but operate independently.
Jackie Wilson, who owns Granite Falls Athletic Club in Rolesville, said his business’s insurance company lowered his annual payments by about $3,300 after Rolesville improved its score in March.
“My insurance rates dropped 22 percent when we went from a class 6 to a class 3,” Wilson said. “It’s a very big deal and I am greatly appreciative.”
Durham Freeway went from a 6 to a 3, and Western Wake went from a 6 to a 4.
The fire departments gave different reasons for their improved scores.
Cary, which last year became the Triangle’s first class 1-rated town, noted investments in its communications systems, expanding its water capacity and opening a new fire station. Raleigh, graded this summer, noted that its communications center has a “near perfect” rating.
Wake County Commissioner Matt Calabria said the county has boosted salaries, improved training and made fire services a higher priority in the past two years.
“In the last budget, we made it a priority to replace old protective equipment and are now in the process of doing that,” Calabria said. “For example, our firefighters were using breathing apparati that in at least some cases were not up to (national) standards, which obviously bears on firefighters’ safety as well as the safety of the folks they serve.
“We also passed a much-needed salary increase to help retain highly trained firefighters who might otherwise be lured away to other jobs,” he said. “Some of the firefighters’ salaries were more than 40 percent behind market rate.”
Jonathan Alexander contributed to this report.