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‘A lot of hard work’: Salisbury receives top fire protection rating

SALISBURY — When the Salisbury Fire Department received the best fire protection rating on Tuesday, Fire Chief Bob Parnell called it the culmination of a 20-year journey.

N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey and other state officials traveled to Fire Station No. 6 to deliver the news that the department’s public protection classification rating of 1, an improvement from its previous rating of 2. Commonly called an ISO rating, the Salisbury Fire Department now owns one of 17 No. 1 ratings in the state. Also among the 17 is Granite Quarry, which received news of its rating improvement in January.

The North Carolina Response Rating System ranges from Nos. 1 to 10, with most rural departments falling into the 9S category.

Parnell said the Salisbury Fire Department improved from No. 4 to No. 3 about 20 years ago and from No. 3 to No. 2 in 2011. As the number grew lower, the top rating felt like it was in reach, he said.

“Because of a lot of hard work, a lot of determination, a lot of fortitude, a lot of support, Salisbury Fire Department goes to a Class 1,” Parnell said Tuesday to a gathering that included a few dozen firefighters. “And that’s not because of the work that the fire chief did. That’s because of support from the officials, but more importantly it’s by the work on the shoulders of these folks sitting here.”

Of the 100 possible points, Salisbury received 95.31. State officials said the average rating for a Class 1 department is 91. Fire ratings are determined based on factors such as communication, water supply, firefighter response and community risk. Even factors like reducing the length of tones when calls are sent to departments make a difference. If there are several agencies called to one incident, a reduction of a few seconds per tone can make a big difference, Parnell said.

In addition to firefighters and city officials charged with drafting and approving budgets, Parnell credited nearby fire departments, telecommunications, EMS and Salisbury-Rowan Utilities, the county’s municipal water provider. Parnell noted the water flow was so good in Salisbury’s inspection that the evaluator said firefighters could just hook hoses to hydrants and fight fires, but he quickly turned to Mayor Karen Alexander and Manager Lane Bailey to clarify the department still needs fire trucks.

“It’s not one person that ever does anything. It’s when we all gather and work together as a team,” said Mayor Karen Alexander.

Improved ratings generally help lower payments for home and business insurance. Salisbury’s rating officially takes effect Sept. 1.

Causey said savings for homeowners would be minimal, if anything, because of the new rating. However, officials on Tuesday recommended business owners with commercial properties in the Salisbury city limits check with fire insurance providers about an improved rating.

“It helps tremendously with commercial insurance rates,” he said.

But there are other benefits, too, namely that the public can have confidence that the Salisbury Fire Department will provide high-quality service.

“It’s really a validation that the fire department is modern, responsive and meets higher than minimum standards for response and fire protection,” Parnell said.

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