Interim chief propels China Grove Fire Department to better ISO rating

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, February 24, 2016

CHINA GROVE — With Mike Zimmerman in charge, the China Grove Fire Department has improved measurably — two ISO rating points to be exact.

In October 2014, former China Grove Fire Chief Jeff Gledhill abruptly resigned from his position. Months later, the town was facing probation from the State Fire Marshal’s Office. The town’s fire rating remained a six.

Shortly after Gledhill’s resignation, town officials brought in Bostian Heights Fire Chief Mike Zimmerman to oversee the China Grove Department on an interim basis. Bostian Heights and China Grove decided to split the cost of Zimmerman’s salary.

The town last week learned the fire department’s ISO rating had improved from a six to a four. Only three departments have an ISO rating better than China Grove, according to a list maintained by Rowan County Emergency Services. A number of departments have the same rating. The ISO rating scale goes from one to 10. One is the best. A rating of 10 means the department is not recognized as certified.

A rating closer to 10 doesn’t indicate poor service. However, a rating closer to one does indicate a department is better equipped to respond to fires.

China Grove’s top two officials are crediting Zimmerman’s leadership as a reason for the improvement.

Zimmerman “is one of the most knowledgeable, dedicated, and professional fire chiefs I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” said China Grove Town Manager Ken Deal. “He has revived the town’s fire department to a level of professionalism the citizens deserve. He has brought a new standard of work ethics to the department.”

Deal said specific factors that played a part in the rating improvement include: proper documentation, fire hydrant flow and location, quality of emergency communication, equipment, staffing, training and various operational considerations.

When asked about the rating improvement, China Grove Mayor Lee Withers stressed Zimmerman’s role in improving the department.

“We had some great employees, but didn’t have the leadership we needed,” Withers said. “Mike is that guy.”

Withers said the roster of China Grove volunteer firefighters has also increased.

“People just want to work for somebody like Mike,” Withers said. “People are proud to wear Station 43 again.”

In a news release about the rating increase, North Carolina Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Wayne Goodwin congratulated Zimmerman on the rating increase.

“The citizens in the Town of China Grove should rest easy knowing they have a fine group of firefighters protecting them and their property in case of an emergency,” Goodwin said.

Rowan County Emergency Services Director Frank Thomason called the rating “another shining example of public safety” in Rowan.

With an improved ISO rating, discussions now turn to the future of the China Grove Fire Department. Town officials have tossed around the idea of merging the fire department with Bostian Heights. Withers said China Grove could also hire a full-time chief. Deal said town officials in 2016 will also continue to discuss a possible merger.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.