For years–if not for ever–Flagler County, thanks to Flagler County Rescue’s firefighters and various operations, had the county’s leading insurance rating. That’s no longer the case. Palm Coast’s fire services this week vaulted to the top of the league, and did so with such a leap that Palm Coast is now ranks near the 99th percentile in that category among all communities in Florida.
The so-called ISO rating is a bit arcane. “This is like anything an account tells you is exciting, but in our business this is exciting,” City Manager Jim Landon said. ISO stands for the Insurance Services Office, which rates cities’ services for fire protection, flood protection and certain infrastructure, on a scale of 1 to 10. The best rating is a 1. Palm Coast started at 9 when it incorporated in 1999. It improved to 6 by 2002, then to 4 in 2010. Flagler County has been at 3. Flagler Beach is at 5. On Monday, after ISO officials analyzed the city’s fire services in spring, the ISO office informed Palm Coast that it had moved up to a 2.
The significance goes beyond mere numbers: the rating indirectly influences insurance rates for property owners, who may see slight rate decreases as a result. Property owners should contact their insurance providers to inquire if their premiums will be impacted by the new rating.
“I can’t help but brag about it because this is huge, when you have a national organization that puts us in this category,” Landon told the Palm Coast City Council Tuesday. “We did not see the increase as a result of throwing additional tax dollars at it.” (By increase, he was referring to the improving ISO number.)
Crediting a fire department’s training, efficiency and effective infrastructure.
Only 69 communities in Florida have an ISO rating of 1 or 2, putting the City of Palm Coast in the top 1.1 percent statewide. Nationally, Palm Coast is in the top 1.3 percent, the city noted in a news release. There are between 600 and 700 communities in Florida.
“We are incredibly proud of this achievement, which puts us among the best of the best fire departments in Florida and across the nation,” said Palm Coast Fire Chief Mike Beadle. “Having a lower ISO rating results in lower insurance costs for our residents, but even more importantly, having excellent fire service saves lives and protects property.”
The review process looks at a multitude of factors related to fire protection, down to the effectiveness of water flow at numerous hydrants, water supply, emergency communications and community outreach. So the rating encompasses the work of the city’s utility department as well.
“I want to personally thank our fire personnel as well as the Palm Coast Utility Department and the Flagler Sheriff’s Office’s Emergency Communications Division for the many strategic steps we’ve taken in recent years to improve our rating,” Beadle said. “It’s a team effort, and we’re proud of our success on behalf of the citizens of Palm Coast.”
“The last thing we have changed and implemented that I think was a major contribution to this was our strategic action plan that now has performance measures.”
By offering economic benefits for communities that invest in their firefighting services, the program provides an incentive for improving and maintaining fire protection.
“Our directors and their employees continually strive to improve our firefighting and fire prevention system to make our City a safe place to live and work,” Landon said.
The survey, conducted every four years under the new rating system that took effect in 2012, specifically evaluates the Fire Department’s structural fire suppression capabilities. Specifically, the ISO looks at the Fire Department, the City’s water supply, emergency communications and what is done to reduce community risk. Points are assigned in each of the four areas. This year’s survey was conducted in April.
In the area of the Fire Department, factors considered include the number of engine companies and backup equipment the Fire Department has, fire call response times, pump capacity, ladders/aerial apparatus, personnel, training and operational considerations such as policies and procedures. Each Palm Coast firefighter receives a minimum of 16 hours of structural firefighting training per month, and the department earned the maximum number of points possible in the training category and also for its number of available engine companies. The community risk portion of the Public Protection Classification survey is also assigned to the responsibility of the Palm Coast Fire, and it includes fire inspections and public education.
The Palm Coast Utility Department oversees the area of water supply. Factors reviewed included how many fire hydrants the city has, water capacity and how well-maintained the water system is.
Emergency communications for the Palm Coast Fire Department are handled by the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s Emergency Communications Division. The ISO considered criteria related to the dispatching and handling of calls, service times and also gave points for the community’s computer-aided dispatch system.
“Congratulations to Chief Beadle, the City Manager and the entire City of Palm Coast, and the Emergency Communications Division of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office on this new Public Protection Classification,” said Sheriff Jim Manfre. “Providing residents fast, efficient service when they call 911 is the top priority of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s Emergency Communications Division, and I’m proud that our dispatchers are part of this team.”