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Published Thu, Dec 06, 2012 04:10 PM
Modified Tue, Dec 11, 2012 07:46 PM

New fire ratings could affect insurance rates

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- ajames@newsobserver.com

CLAYTON -- The Clayton Fire Department has earned improved fire ratings that could lower insurance premiums for local homes and businesses.

“We’re very proud of being able to reduce our fire-insurance rating,” said Clayton Fire Chief Lee Barbee. “Every member of this team had a piece of it … everyone did their jobs. That’s what we need to be proud of … we were ready. We seized this opportunity to provide benefit to the public.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal, which issues fire ratings, considers things like how long it takes firefighters to reach a home, how big of an area a fire department covers, water pressure, the condition of the hydrants and how much training firefighters receive. The ratings range from 1 to 10, with a 1 being the best.

Inside the town limits, the Clayton Fire Department improved its rating from Class 5 to Class 4. Outside the town limits, the rating improved from a Class 5/9 split rating to a solid 5.

For some home and business owners, this could mean savings of up to $200 annually in premium payments. However, the new numbers don’t necessarily mean insurance premiums will go down for everyone.

Jessica Cooper is an insurance agent with Nationwide Insurance in Clayton. She said insurers set premiums on a case-by-case basis. After the new ratings were announced Tuesday, she had a client come into the office who lives outside the town limits. The client was hoping to learn that his insurance premium would fall.

“What matters is the distance to a fire hydrant and the distance to a fire station,” said Cooper. For that client, whose house was not in the five-mile town limits, his house is not within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant, or five miles of a station, so his insurance premium will not be affected.

When calculating premiums for homeowner’s insurance, an insurer wants to know, “Is it within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant or within five miles of a fire station?” Cooper said. Other variables that affect the cost of a premium include marital status and credit score, so it’s not just the fire rating.

Stacy Beard, spokeswoman for the Town of Clayton, said the fire department’s long-term goal is to install dozens of new hydrants so that everyone under Clayton’s protection lives within 1,000 feet of a hydrant.

Until then, the fire department agreed to be rated based on how quickly and efficiently it can haul water to a scene when a hydrant is not available.

“We had five minutes to have two engines pull up to a fire site, deploy a 2,000-gallon foldable drop tank, deploy the hose, get water into the tank and supply the line with water, “ said Jason Dean, the Clayton Fire Department’s training and safety officer. “ It took our team 49 seconds to get water in the tank and another 12 seconds to supply the line, for a total of 1 minute 2 seconds. It’s one of the fastest times the inspector said he’d ever seen.”

At one point, the inspector pulled out a map of Clayton and landed his finger randomly on a clump of tobacco barns. Firefighters had to respond immediately with their exact plan to supply water to that site.

“The citizens in the Town of Clayton should rest easy knowing they have a fine group of firefighters protecting them and their property in case of emergency,” said N.C.Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin.

The Clayton Fire Department also protects areas that are more than 5 miles from a fire station but not more than 6 miles. The rating in those area remains at 9.

The town was last graded in 1997. The new ratings take effect Jan. 1, 2013.

James: 919-553-7234

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