Results of recent insurance rating inspections of the Pilot and Zebulon fire departments may double as a Christmas present to the areas they serve.
The Pilot department improved from a Class 9 to Class 6 rating, while the Zebulon department maintained its in-town Class 3 rating under new, more-involved standards, and also improved to a Class 4 rating in its county district.
As a result, the areas covered by both departments stand to see a decrease in insurance costs – with many residents saving hundreds of dollars annually.
Pilot’s new Class 6 rating is the best a volunteer fire department can achieve without serving an area with a large amount of commercial structures, according to Franklin County Fire Marshal Jeff Lewis.
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“It means that they’ve done some awesome work,” Lewis said. “It means they’re able to haul a specific amount of water, maintaining training, hours, pump tests.
“The lower the fire rating, the less the insurance premium. It’s the only way the fire department can put money directly back into the citizens’ hands. A job well done for them, because it’s a lot of work.”
Pilot Fire Chief Lane Hobbs said the feat had been a goal for quite some time. The inspection was carried out by the Office of State Fire Marshal at the request of the department.
“Historically, since the mid-’70s when they started the rating systems, we’d been in the Class 9,” Hobbs said. “It took us a while to determine ourselves what our strengths and weaknesses were. We worked on our weaknesses and took advantages of our strengths and made the call to see if we could improve.”
Hobbs said the classification jump would result in insurance savings of about $300 for owners of an average residential property.
Helping both departments receive a better report card was a contract for service calling for Pilot and Zebulon to provide mutual fire aid to each other.
“The county lines are no longer an obstacle,” Hobbs said.
Zebulon was due for an inspection on a rotating schedule that most every fire department is subject to periodically.
To maintaining its Class 3 rating in town, the department had to meet the requirements of the inspectors’ new grading schedule.
“The criteria was written in the mid-to-late ’70s, so there was a lot to update, if you can imagine,” said Zebulon Chief Chris Perry. “When we did our grading, Pilot, Hopkins and Wendell (fire departments) were all huge parts of us getting our grading.”
Zebulon previously had a split grading in its service area outside the town limits, where locations within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant were designated Class 3 and all other areas were Class 9.
“The vast majority of our county district was Class 9,” Perry said.
The new Class 4 rating applies within a five-mile perimeter of the Zebulon station.
“Since the last grading, much of the annexation has come further away, which would hurt our rating,” Perry said. “We knew that would impact our grading, so we tried new things to make up for that.”
Perry said that’s where working with other departments helped greatly. By doing so, he said both Pilot and Zebulon were able to demonstrate to the Department of Insurance that they can sustain a water supply over a designated period of time, even in areas where no fire department exists.