Homeowners in Walker County, Ga., should see their insurance rates drop on May 1, thanks to an improvement in the county's fire-risk rating.
County officials made that announcement Thursday after learning that Insurance Services Office Inc. improved Walker County's fire rating from class four to class three. The New Jersey-based firm assigns a public protection classification to communities ranging from one to 10, with one being the best.
"It's a big deal, really," County Coordinator David Ashburn said. "We're the first rural fire department to get a class three rating in the state of Georgia."
ISO also upgraded Walker County's water-supply rating for fire suppression.
What that means, according to a news release issued by the county, is the average homeowner could save up to $100 annually because of the class three rating, while the improved water-supply rating may shave $500 off some homeowners' annual insurance bill.
"The fire department has worked very, very hard to get this," Sole County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell said. "I'm very proud of them, and I'm very pleased to have this ISO rating."
Improvements made in the last year by the Walker County Emergency Services department, which handles firefighting, include installing a new, $154,000 training tower at the fire department's headquarters in Kensington, spending $405,000 in federal grant money for 159 new breathing apparatuses that use lightweight, carbon-fiber air tanks, and using federal money to buy a new, $640,000 combination ladder truck and fire engine.
In its quest for the better rating, the county also has relocated fire stations recently and built new ones so that most residents live within five miles of a station.
"That why we have 20 stations," Heiskell said. "Most of the people that live in Walker County live within a five-mile radius."
County workers also have installed fire hydrants to improve the water supply, Ashburn said, and beefed up its number of vehicles that can haul water to a blaze.
The county's 911 system, which just had a $1.7 million upgrade that allows vehicles to be tracked, got a perfect score from ISO, he said.
"It's been a lot of hard work, I promise you," Ashburn said of the combined effort.
Of the 1,038 fire departments in Georgia, only 56 have attained class three, he said. Twenty are ranked as class two, Ashburn said, and no Georgia fire department has reached class one.
Walker County property owners pay a $65 annual fee for fire protection, Ashburn said.
If Walker County had a class 10 ISO rating -- or no firefighters at all, a resident owning a $150,000 home would pay $2,416 annually for insurance, the county news release states. With the class three rating, that annual insurance payment should drop to $1,041 -- for a savings of about $1,400.
"The concept here is, you give me $65, I'll give you $1,400," Ashburn said.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.