AFD rating means insurance savings

By Jason Hawk -

An upgraded fire coverage rating is expected to spur “significant savings” on private insurance costs, according to Amherst fire chief Jim Wilhelm.

The city’s Insurance Services Office score will rise Sept. 1 from a five to a four on a scale of 10.

The change will quickly help lower private insurance rates for commercial businesses and eventually impact homeowners’ policies as well, Wilhelm said.

“This is about how well we do things here with equipment, manpower, and how well we fight fires,” the chief said.

Firefighter training, dispatch protocols, how well hoses and ladders are maintained, how many trucks respond to calls, and many other factors play into the score.

Rising to an even higher score would require the Amherst fire department to be fully staffed, have personnel on station at all hours, have multiple water towers, and install many more hydrants, said Wilhelm.

His crews are working on some improvements such as exploring automatic mutual aid agreements with nearby cities and townships — but ultimately, Amherst has very old water lines and big improvements would be incredibly costly.

Fire officials worked from October to February to prepare an audit in hopes of earning the ISO score upgrade. Wilhelm said ISO sent a consultant who made one important recommendation that’s already paying off.

Seeing Amherst’s limited number of hydrants in key areas, and noting the shortage of water they would provide in the event of a structure fire, ISO suggested linking hydrants.

For example, if Steele High School were to suffer a major fire throughout the building, firefighters would need access to 5,000 gallons of water per minute to take it out. But the nearby hydrants provide only 1,500 gallons per minute.

But once on scene, crews can use hoses to connect several nearby hydrants, upping the available flow to 3,250 gallons per minute — still not enough, but much better. (It’s also worth pointing out that the chances a fire would fully engulf the spread-out, concrete-and-brick high school are nearly zero.)

Take another location: A single hydrant at Milan Avenue and Quarry Road would provide just 650 gallons per minute should the former Amherst IGA grocery store catch on fire. Linked hydrants would provide 3,400 gallons, though.

The new rating puts Amherst above average where ISO ratings are concerned. Most fire departments nationwide are scored at five or six on the scale — and a terrifying number are rated nine.

Only 241 departments in the country are rated as class one, with 1,324 in class two.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk