As a child, when Ryan Heavner travelled around the country with his family, he and his dad, who was a firefighter, would visit fire departments, take pictures and maybe get a t-shirt.
“In the larger towns you’d stop in, you’d see an insurance rating number on the truck,” he said. “Most of the larger towns are inspected by ISO, Insurance Services Offices, so you’d see an ISO of one or an ISO of two. That’s a big deal, that’s something that the fire service culture holds pretty high. I always remember seeing those numbers and thinking, ‘this must be a really good fire department to be at.’”
Now the chief of his own fire department in Lincolnton, Heavner and his department have achieved a milestone. After the most recent inspection conducted by the North Carolina Department of Insurance, the department received a rating of a class two. This is up two spots from their last rating of a four.
“It’s an evaluation of the past snapshot of what you’ve done,” Heavner said. “They look at the way 911 calls are handled by our dispatcher center, then there’s the water system that’s provided by the municipality and fire department operation in general. We’re two-thirds of that pie, the other third are dispatch and water supply.”
Heavner attributes the better rating to changes in the department. They’ve hired more staff, which played a big role in the better rating, had technology upgrades and the upgraded Lincolnton water system.
The inspection was conducted by officials with the Department of Insurance Office of State Fire Marshal and is required on a regular basis as part of the North Carolina Response Rating System. In addition to the points noted by Heavner, the inspectors look for sufficient equipment, proper maintenance of equipment and communications capabilities.
The NCRRS rating system ranges from one (highest) to 10 (not recognized as a certified fire department by the state), with most rural departments falling into the 9S category. While lower ratings do not necessarily indicate poor service, a higher rating does suggest that a department is overall better equipped to respond to fires in its district. Higher ratings can also significantly lower homeowners insurance rates in that fire district.
“For residential insurance policies, there’s no significant change in rates in a rating from one to six,” Heavner said. “The largest reductions will be seen in commercial and industrial. They’ll see a significant drop in their liability insurance rate. Homeowners are likely not going to see a difference at all.”
The Lincolnton Fire Department is the only fire department with a rating of two in the county, according to Heavner, who has worked at the Lincolnton Fire Department since 2001 and has been the chief for the past three years.
“Along with getting the two is the expectation of keeping it or even getting better,” he said. “I’ve got eight and a half years before I can retire and I’d like to think that before that time is up that we might be in the position here in Lincolnton to ask for another evaluation to see if we can improve our rating. I think we’re moving to be a more progressive city that has a desire to provide even better protection for our citizens. It’ll be a big career challenge but I’m excited for it.”