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3 Things to Know About ISO Inspections for Fire Departments

ESO Staff

If you’ve been in the fire industry for any substantial length of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard about Insurance Services Office (ISO) Inspections and their associated rankings. ISO’s Public Protection Classification program regularly visits fire stations to inspect and report on key criteria points that assess the potential fire safety of the station’s community.

While not all of these criteria are entirely under the control of the fire department itself, there are several actions that can be taken to improve an ISO ranking. Communities are issued a Public Protection Classification (PPC), with Class 1 representing “superior property fire protection” and Class 10 indicating that the area’s fire-suppression program doesn’t meet ISO’s minimum criteria.

Why You Should Care About ISO Classifications

While bragging rights and adherence to excellence contribute to a top classification, ISO ranking also impacts community insurance property rates. While not true for every area, some insurance companies use ISO rankings to assign insurance rates, increasing rates for areas with poor classifications.

In any case, it’s important for fire departments to be aware of ISO inspection processes and take proactive measures to help boost their rating; in fact, there are several small steps that can increase a department’s score, adding up to make a real difference in overall ranking.

Fire Suppression Rating Schedule

ISO conducts its inspections using the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS), a manual that measures the major elements of a community’s fire protection system and develops a numerical grading to assign the PPC (from 0 to 105.5). While ISO is a for-profit organization, its classifications are generally recognized as industry-wide benchmarks that can help departments make improvement plans, compare performance with other communities, and increase safety standards for its community.

The FSRS takes into account three main areas of a community’s fire suppression system when awarding points during an ISO inspection. Better understanding their criteria and what you can do to improve your scores in each area can help your fire department garner a higher classification.

1. Fire Operations

A key element reviewed in an ISO inspection is how well a community’s fire department operates and how prepared it is to respond to fire incidents. This represents up to 50 points out of your 105.5 potential points in the ISO scoring. In this category, an ISO inspectors may review:

  • Your standard operating procedures (SOPs), especially those that map back to incident response.
  • Your training schedules, including whether you have a longstanding facility for training and other tools you offer to your staff, like online training.
  • Your routine maintenance and testing of equipment, including daily inventory checks on each apparatus and regular pump tests.
  • Your staffing levels, ensuring you have plenty of firefighters onsite to respond (certain criteria do allow volunteer firefighters to be counted as regular staff in specific conditions).

Tightening up your processes and training and developing resources like checklists for your fire department to track important tasks can not only garner you a better PPC, but can also improve your station readiness and ultimately create better outcomes in your community.

2. Emergency Communications

This category represents a maximum of 10 points and examines how well the fire department receives and dispatches fire alarms, including:

  • Emergency reporting system
  • Communications center, including the number of telecommunicators
  • Availability of Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) facilities
  • Dispatch circuits and how the center notifies firefighters about the location of incidents

Small improvements, such as equipping all fire personnel with portable radio voice receivers and a tone pager, can raise your score. Another simple improvement is getting the telephone company to list your emergency and non-emergency (business) numbers in your local directory.

3. Water Supply

For a maximum of 40 points in your score, ISO surveys whether the community has sufficient water supply for fire suppression beyond maximum daily consumption. While a fire department typically cannot affect community water supply, it can act as an advocate for water management and availability with decision-makers.

Additionally, the ISO reviews some elements that are within fire department control such as:

  • Fire hydrant inspections, flushing, and frequency of flow testing
  • Number of fire hydrants that are no more than 1,000 feet from representative locations

ISO does recognize alternative water supply systems, including dry hydrants, suction points, large-diameter hose (LDH) relays, and hauled water using tanker shuttles, so it is helpful to review these options if your water supply doesn’t meet minimum FSRS criteria.

Extra Credit: Community Risk Reduction (CRR) Programs

In addition, ISO recognizes community efforts to reduce risks through fire prevention, public fire safety education, and fire investigation. Fire department CRRs play an important role in this, of course, and should be built with ISO objectives in mind. Offering you up to 5.5 extra points, this scoring rewards communities employing effective fire prevention practices without penalizing those who have not yet adopted such measures.

Tracking Your Data is Your Secret Weapon

With so many elements to track and maintain, the various ISO grading points (combined with your regular compliance requirements) can be a bit daunting. When an ISO inspector asks you to pull inspection records for a specific piece of equipment for the last three months, how easy or difficult is that for you to do? How are you ensuring all your key equipment is being maintained and tested, your people are continuing their training, your shifts are filled, and your CRR program is addressing your top incident risks?

The good news is that powerful software designed specifically for the fire industry can make all of these tasks automated, secure, and easy to report. Fire Record Management Software (RMS) offers a variety of features ranging from incident reporting and personnel management to automated equipment checklists and fire preplan databases.

To learn more about how today’s Fire RMS tools can make your ISO inspections more successful and operations more efficient, take a tour of ESO Fire today.

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