UNICOI — It’s been quite some time since the Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department’s Insurance Services Office rating has been evaluated, but the department is exploring ways to change this and hopefully save Unicoi homeowners some money on insurance payments.
At Monday’s regular meeting of the town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen, the board heard from Lt. Dustin Ledford with the Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department. Ledford said the town’s fire district rating has been a 9 since the UVFD opened its doors in 1968, and the district’s last evaluation was in 1974. The ISO ratings range from 0 to 10, with the low end of that range representing strong fire protection to no fire protection on the high end.
Ledford said when ISO ratings are given, those regulating the ratings examine the area within a five-mile drive of a fire department.
“So after that five miles, if you don’t have another station closer to that point, after that five miles you basically, according to ISO, don’t have a fire department that covers your area,” Ledford said. “It’s sad that it’s like that, but that’s the way that it works. So if you live outside of that five-mile radius of our protection area, your insurance company’s going to tell you ‘hey, you don’t have a fire department to protect your area’ when in essence you really do.”
This has led to higher insurance premiums for some homeowners in the area. Ledford said a recent ISO update placed homes in the Whispering Pines and Rolling Hills areas into the UVFD’s fire district. Ledford said he has heard from homeowners in these areas who have seen significant increases in their insurance rates. He said he is particularly concerned about homeowners in the Whispering Pines area, which falls just outside of the UVFD’s five-mile ISO radius and are now considered by the ISO to have no fire protection.
“The only way we’re going to fix this problem, and I have searched and searched, and the only actual method to doing it is to build a secondary substation centralized somewhere in the Garland Road, Springbrook (Drive) area,” Ledford said.
This substation would not require new equipment purchases by the UVFD, and Ledford said the department may be eligible for a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to pay for its construction. However, Ledford said this grant would require that the UVFD have deeded property for the substation in hand.
“Building a building is not the problem,” he said. “Finding the property to build it on is the issue.”
But the department is also focusing on the fire district as a whole. For the past three years, Ledford has been compiling information in hopes of lowering the UVFD’s ISO rating. He said he has sent this information to ISO regulators and is awaiting confirmation that they have received it and are ready to schedule a re-evaluation.
Ledford said his goal is to lower the fire district’s ISO rating to a 5 to match surrounding fire districts and hopes to have the re-evaluation completed by the first of the new year.
Two things the aldermen and Ledford wanted to make clear is that the ISO rating is not regulated by fire departments and the UVFD district’s high rating is not due to a lack of effort on the part of the UVFD, with Aldermen Mark Ramsey calling the district’s ISO rating of a 9 an “insult.”
“I want the homeowners and the community to understand that it’s not us that regulates this, it’s not us that’s changed anything,” Ledford said. “It comes down to the Insurance Service Office that has changed this.”
In other business, the board:
— Approved an amendment to a previous resolution regulating tractor trailers traveling on certain roads within the town.
— Discussed lowering the speed limit on Richard McGlaughlin Road. The first reading of an ordinance on the matter will likely be up for board consideration at its September meeting.
— Approved the second reading of a resolution to borrow $370,000 to be used for the purchase of nearly two acres of property off Exit 32. The funding is to be used to purchase and renovate a home at this location that the town intends to use for several municipal offices.