Center Township and Lebanon firefighters battle a house fire along Indianapolis Avenue together on Dec. 9. Submitted photo
Center Township and Lebanon firefighters battle a house fire along Indianapolis Avenue together on Dec. 9. Submitted photo
The Center Township Fire Department provides “virtually no protection” from fire, according to the International Risk Management Institute. CTFD’s ISO rating is 9-10 on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the best rating, and 10 being the worst.

A private company, The Insurance Services Office (ISO), rates fire departments and provides scores to the departments and insurance companies.

ISO scores reflect how well prepared a department is to fight fires, and insurance companies may use the scores to evaluate risk and determine rates they charge home and business owners.

Insurance companies vary in how they approach ISO ratings. Homes in areas with a lower ISO rate may save up to 5% on insurance.

“It depends on the company,” Dan Lamar, insurance agent with Walker Hughes Insurance in Lebanon, said. “ They all have their own tiers of discounts, and differentiate between paid and volunteer departments too.”

But a lower ISO can save money. “Homeowner rates have increased over the past few years,” Lamar said. “So, if you get a change of 5% in savings, that, in my opinion, is significant.”

Insurance companies consider homes in an area with an ISO rate of 10 to be unprotected from fire, Lamar said.

Volunteer and rural fire departments are at a disadvantage compared to those in cities because they lack adequate fire hydrants. Water supply accounts for 40% of a department’s score in determining ISO ratings.

CTFD is a rural department, but not volunteer.

“We haven’t had volunteers since 2008-09,” Center Township Trustee Randy Large said. “We have paid reserves.” CTFD has six-full time firefighters and 15-20 reserves.

“A couple of big factors are how far you are from the fire department and where’s the source of water,” Lamar said. “Does the fire department have a 1,000 (gallon) tank, and is a hydrant close by?”

Center Township covers about 65 square miles with a population of about 18,000 and nearly 8,000 houses, according to U.S. Census data. “We are a rural department with a lot of area to cover,” Large said.

The Lebanon Fire Department’s rating is 3.

Only 15% of communities nationwide have an ISO rating of 3 or better, while only 1% of communities enjoy an ISO of 1 or better, according to LendingTree.com. Pike Township in Marion County was the first in the state to receive an ISO rating of 1. Of the remaining fire departments nationwide, 56% have an ISO rate of 5 or better, and 43% fall into the 6 or higher classification with Center Township.

Lamar said LFD is continually improving, constantly training, has two stations and high-quality equipment, and has an ability to respond quickly.

“Center Township does an excellent job as well,” he said. “They’re well equipped also and they train well, too. Their challenge is that they have to respond to rural fires. They have to use tankers to haul their own water.”

LFD should be able to reach any fire in its jurisdiction within five minutes, while Center Township may take up to 15 minutes, he said, adding, “It’s just the demographics of their responsibilities.”

But a rural department can boost its rating by maintaining adequate staf f, maintaining equipment to national safety standards, keeping meticulous maintenance records, and boosting firefighter training.

For comparison, Thorntown Sugar Creek Volunteer Fire Department’s rating is 5-8 – 5 in town and 8 in rural areas – TSC Chief Mike Martin said.

Thorntown is an all-volunteer department.

Thorntown’s last ISO evaluation was 10 years ago, and its management has maximized its chances at a higher score by focusing on maintenance, staffing, and record keeping, Martin said, adding that the department is in the process of a re-evaluation.

TSC maintains its equipment more for firefighter and community safety than for the ISO rating, but a good rating is a bonus, Martin said.

“The better the ISO number, the cheaper insurance rate you get for all the citizens,” Martin said.

To rise above an ISO rating of 10, CTFD must demonstrate that at least four firefighters respond to an initial alarm of reported structure fires. CTFD has been unable to guarantee even three in more than a year. Three is the minimum requirement for OSHA and NFPA standards.

CTFD’s biggest impediment to a lower ISO rating is its budget. “Everybody would like to have as many men as they can, as far as full-time guys go,” Large said, adding the township can’t afford more men.

The Lebanon Reporter learned of CTFD’s ISO rating as part of an Indiana Public Records request regarding the Lebanon Fire Department’s suspension of CTFD for automatic aid in September. CTFD for a year has been unable to guarantee three firefighters available per apparatus during emergencies.

The township also did not provide proof of annual certification of its life-saving equipment, as required by OSHA and recommended by the National Fire Protection Association.

LFD in summer offered CTFD time to gather documents and assure adequate staff, but CTFD was unable to meet the requirements and is no longer automatically called to Lebanon emergencies. LFD is still automatically called to all of CTFD’s emergencies.
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