Understanding Grading Schedule Can Make ISO Survey Routine

Understanding Grading Schedule Can Make ISO Survey Routine


Fire department administrators can make their own checkup and evaluate cost-benefit ratio of any improvements indicated

At the start of the American Revolution, Paul Revere waited for a signal to begin his famous ride warning the colonists that the British were coming. As he rode from town to town calling, “The British are coming! The British are coming” the minutemen sprang into action.

Today, when the news arrives in a municipality that the Insurance Services Office (ISO) will perform a grading, the elected officials sound the alarm by telephone. It travels from official to official until it arrives on the desk of fire service management. Word spreads within the fire service with the rallying cry, “ISO is coming! ISO is corning!” Panic mounts as there is little time to prepare.

Obviously the answer, as the colonists found out, is preparation far in advance of need. Documentation, records, improvements, and decisions must be made long before ISO decides to grade your municipality. The grading visit is handled as a routine matter in many departments, just because they have prepared all the required data well in advance.

Management responsibilities

Fire service management must be thoroughly familiar with the standards for grading, what subject areas the grading covers, the impact of the grading on their municipality and, equally as important, an understanding of what the grading is not.

To assist management personnel, this article discusses the way a grading is conducted, how to plan for grading and a summary of the major points of the grading schedule.

It must be borne in mind that this article is not all inclusive. The summary of the grading is very general in nature. Fire service management personnel should refer to the actual ISO text for the exact grading requirements.

Remember, an ISO grading is designed to help you, not to place obstacles in the road for you to stumble over. Properly used, it is an effective management tool.

Fire defenses evaluated

The National Board of Fire Underwriters began to evaluate municipal fire protection in 1889. Today, the rating service has been taken over by the Insurance Services Office of the American Insurance Association. The job of the ISO engineers is to evaluate an area’s fire defenses and assign a rate to be used in calculating the cost of fire insurance. The standards used for evaluation are published as the “Grading Schedule for Municipal Fire Protection,”1 or as it is more commonly known, the Grading Schedule.

It is important to note that there is not a direct correlation between fire insurance premiums and the efficiency of the fire department.

As Chief David B. Gratz says,2 “If efficiency can be measured in terms of effectiveness and economy, then correlation is not always correct. Low fire insurance premiums do not necessarily indicate that the fire department is being managed either effectively or economically. The reverse is also true; high fire insurance premiums are not always indicative of a mismanaged fire department.”

For a large municipality, the survey teams are usually made up of three engineers; one for the fire department, one for water supply, and one for fire prevent ion and building code studies. For a smaller area, one engineer covers all three areas.

Insurance Services Office, “Grading Schedule for Municipal Fire Protection,” New York, N.Y., 1974.

Gratz, D. B., “Fire Department Management: Scope and Method,” Glencoe Press, Beverly Hills, Calif., 1972, p. 20.

#A ninth-class municipality is one (a) receiving 4,001 to 4,500 points of deficiency, or (b) receiving less than 4,001 points but having no recognized water supply.

*A tenth-class municipality is one (a) receiving more than 4,500 points of deficiency, or (b) without a recognized water supply and having a fire department grading over 1,755 points, or (c) with a water supply and no fire department, or (d) with no fire protection.

Field survey made

The engineers conduct a field survey. They use records, reports, tests, and actual observations of fire department operations, training, fire prevention and administration. They study rules and regulations, logbooks, training reports, annual reports, building violation notices, enforcement records and maintenance reports. Fire flows in selected areas are conducted to determine the adequacy of the water supply for the type of construction and building occupancy.

Pumper tests are carried out under the scrutiny of the engineers to check on apparatus condition as well as the competency of the operators. The equipment carried on the apparatus is checked to ensure that there is a sufficient amount, that personnel are familiar with its operation, and that it is in operating condition.

The communications system will be studied for its ability to notify personnel of a call, for its reliability, for a backup system and for its maintenance record. The quality of the maintenance personnel will also be evaluated.

One of the engineers will spend time with fire prevention personnel on inspections to study the adequacy and accuracy of the program. Reinspections will be made to determine follow-up capability. Structural conditions in industrial, business, residential and high-rise areas will be surveyed.

Deficiency points assigned

The ISO field engineers assign deficiency points for areas which are below the level of protection the Grading Schedule has established. These deficiency points are added up and the class rating for the area is determined. Table 1 lists the deficiency points for each class.

The relative values and the maximum deficiency points which can be assessed are detailed in table 2.

The deficiency to be assigned is determined as a percentage and this value is translated to a corresponding number of deficiency points. Table 3 summarizes the deficiency scale. As an example, suppose that the design, maintenance and condition of the fire stations are evaluated on a 3/4 scale. Upon investigation, the engineer determines that your department is 42 percent deficient in this area. The points assessed would be:

  1. From table 3,42 percent equals 72 points.
  2. Since stations are evaluated on a 3/4 scale, the points assessed would be 3/4 of 72, or 54 points.

A written report showing the grading, as well as the deficiency points, is submitted to the municipality upon completion of the study.

Points to consider

To determine where your fire department stands now and to help plan for the future, fire department managers should make a systematic check, using the Grading Schedule. A possible planning outline to use for this check follows:

  1. Read and study the Grading Schedule carefully.
  2. Assign the portions of the Grading Schedule to the proper municipal officials (water, building, fire department training, fire department operations, etc.). Have these individuals rate the current status as if the grading was being done immediately. Forms for recording the data must be developed.
  3. Prepare a list of each item and the deficiency points earned.
  4. Determine which items can be improved without cost.
  5. Determine which items will require an expenditure to improve and estimate the cost.
  6. Determine how much money can be saved on fire insurance premiums for each rating class.
  7. Determine the cost required to make a rating class improvement.
  8. Using a cost/benefit ratio, determine if it would be financially justifiable to make the improvements required.
  9. Study the deficiencies to determine if they should be eliminated regardless of cost to improve community service.
  10. Project the municipal requirements for 5 and 10 years. Determine if it would be financially feasible to make improvements at that later date. If it is, then develop a capital expenditure program.
  11. If a large expenditure is approved, conduct a public relations program to inform the public how the cost will be offset by savings in insurance premiums.

It is evident that fire department administrators who are well prepared for a grading by the Insurance Services Office can handle the visit as a routine matter. Then, when the cry is heard, “ISO is coming!” fire service management can sit back, knowing it is prepared to put its best foot forward.

Includes copyrighted material of Insurance Services Office with it« permission. Copyright Insurance Services Office, 1974.

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