Although many property owners will never have a fire in their home or business, most insure their property. The amount they pay for fire insurance is largely determined by the Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating of the local fire department according to the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS), a “point-based” evaluation system that ranks fire departments from 1 to 10 (1 being the best, 10 the worst–effectively no public fire protection). A fire department can review its rating with its city council and discuss the improvements that can be made to the department to lower its rating, resulting in lower insurance rates. This review is especially important during budget discussions. Many times, these savings are greater than the department`s budget.

Regardless of how much money the fire department saves, however, the money available for operating the department and making the capital improvements needed to provide better fire protection or lower insurance rates always will be limited. Fire departments have another alternative, however: The FSRS allows a fire department to share resources with its neighbors (automatic aid) to reduce fire insurance rates.


Under automatic aid, a department arranges in advance to have another department`s assets–equipment, personnel, or both–automatically respond to a call in the contacting department`s territory; no request must be made at the time of the emergency. Automatic aid differs from mutual aid in that, unlike mutual aid, a special request does not have to be made at the time of need. Fire departments that establish an automatic-aid plan can receive up to 90 percent of the full credit (points) they would have received if they owned the equipment themselves.


Generally, the number of credits that can be earned through automatic aid depends on the alarm receipt/dispatch and fireground communications arrangements between the aiding and aided departments as well as their training. a maximum of 90 percent of full credit can be earned by the department seeking aid. The percentages cited below are the components of the 90 percent credit just described.

Dispatch centers. If a joint communications center receives and dispatches all calls for the aiding and the aided departments, a 15 percent credit is allowed. Up to an additional 10 percent credit will be given if the dispatch center of the aiding department receives all calls from the department being rated and dispatches the companies specified in the automatic-aid plan by running-card or an equivalent system; and an additional 20 percent credit will be allowed if the dispatch center`s equipment and operators are used.

Radio. If the two departments have common mobile and portable radio frequency capability, a 10 percent credit will apply; the credit is five percent if both departments have a common frequency on either their mobile or portable radio–not both.

Joint training. Up to a 35 percent credit would apply if the aiding and aided departments hold quarterly, half-day, multiple company drills together; the credit would be 20 percent if the joint drills are held semiannually and 10 percent if they are held annually.

The (maximum) 90 percent possible credit then is used as a “multiplier factor” to determine the specific number of credits given for automatic aid responding with personnel and equipment as described below.


Up to 15 percent of the available points in the FSRS apply to engine companies, their pumps, and their equipment: 10 percent for engine companies and five percent for pump capacity.

The number of engine companies and the pump capacity needed are based on the Basic Fire Flow (BFF), determined by the building with the fifth highest needed fire flow. The BFF will not be less than 500 gpm or exceed 3,500 gpm. While the formula the ISO uses to determine the needed fire flow is fairly complex, it basically is determined by construction type and occupancy as well as the potential of the fire to communicate within the subject building or to exposures.

If the BFF is from 500 to 1,000 gpm, a district needs one engine company. If the BFF is more than 1,000 gpm but not more than 2,500 gpm, the district needs two engine companies. If the BFF is greater than 2,500 gpm up to 3,500 gpm, the district needs three engine companies. The needed pump capacity is equal to the BFF.

Assume the following scenario. A community has a BFF need of 1,750 gpm. The local fire department has one engine with a 1,000-gpm pump. The fire department four miles down the road has an engine with a 1,000-gpm pump. Both departments use the same well-equipped dispatch center, which dispatches calls using a running-card system. Both departments use the same communication frequency and regularly train together. By using credit for automatic aid, the department being rated can go from a possible five percent for engine companies to a possible 9.5 percent out of a maximum 10 percent for engine companies. The department being rated also can go from a possible 2.85 percent for pump capacity to the five percent maximum credit for pump capacity. The rated department has gained nearly seven percent at no cost.


Perhaps the biggest area in which automatic-aid credit can be gained is in personnel. Personnel makes up 15 percent of the FSRS points. It is, however, important to keep close track of the number of personnel responding from other departments on automatic aid. At the time the ISO rates the department, the average number of automatic-aid responders will be figured into your rating for company personnel. A department should arrange for an automatic-aid re-sponse, stage the automatic-aid units if they are not needed, and keep records of the number of personnel responding.


Ladder or service companies make up five percent of the FSRS point schedule. A ladder company with an aerial device is needed if five or more buildings in the department`s response area are three stories or 35 or more feet in height. Otherwise, the department needs a service company. A service company carries much the same equipment as a ladder company, except for the aerial device and other ground ladders. Many small departments do not have the resources to have either. This is an area where automatic aid can add credit. One ladder or service company in a centrally located area can serve several departments.


The final area in which automatic aid can play a role is a fire department-provided water supply–i.e., water shuttle. For a department to qualify for a rating of better (lower) than a class 9, the community must have a water system capable of delivering 250 gallons of water per minute for two hours. If the department is not in a community served by a municipal water system, the fire department can develop a water system by using dry hydrants and shuttle tankers. The entire shuttle system can be made up of automatic-aid assets if necessary.

The credit given an automatic-aid tanker is reduced to whatever percentage of automatic-aid credit is allowed as described above. In other words, if another department`s tanker is rated to deliver 60 gallons per minute and the automatic-aid rating is 75 percent, the tanker would only be credited for 45 gallons per minute in the water shuttle. The pumpers operating at the water source also can come from automatic-aid departments.


The importance of record keeping cannot be emphasized enough. Maintain records of all engine, ladder, and tanker companies responding to any structure fire under mutual aid. Include the names of all personnel responding and list the dates and descriptions of all intercompany training and drills. As far as the ISO is concerned, if you don`t have organized, written records of an event, it didn`t happen–and you won`t get credit.

Automatic aid can make a substantial difference in a department`s ISO rating and can result in great insurance savings to the property owners served by the department. Departments should study the FSRS. n

DALE PERRY, an attorney, is assistant chief of the Hull (GA) Community Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. and president of the Madison County Volunteer Firefighters Association. He has been a member of the fire service since 1971.

No posts to display