ISO update: cities to begin repairing hydrants

Fannin County EMA/EMS, News
hydrants

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Fire Chief Larry Thomas delivered his monthly ISO update and confirmed cities will begin fixing any defective hydrants.

Fannin County Fire Department (FCFD) recently completed a check of every county hydrant, and now the responsibility falls to the townships to repair any hydrant within its city limits.

The out of service hydrants were flagged with tape, and some don’t currently have water, which could be corrected by a contractor servicing the hydrant.

“Cities were contacted by email to let them know that it’s something they need to start checking,” Thomas told the commissioners, “Some damaged hydrants, covered by brush or blocked by fencing, we took care of two that were blocked by fencing too close to the hydrant.”

Mcaysville is prepared to fix the hydrants. Blue Ridge is looking into approving funds for hydrants repairs. Morganton specifics weren’t mentioned during the meeting.

Thomas doesn’t expect the hydrant repairs to take very long for the cities.

Hose and pump testing is scheduled for after the first of the year.

Post One Earl Johnson cleared up another point of contention with the ISO rating, “No one failed, the classification changed because of the status of the status of the infrastructure in the department.”

Thomas agreed ISO classifications changed since the last inspection six years ago, which put the county back at a score of six.

“Our classification changed just that little bit to put us back into that six,” stated Thomas.

Previously, the county went down from a seven to a five ISO rating.

The county continues to take steps to get back the five rating, including the hydrant checks, hose testing, training, and proposal to hire six full-time firefighters in the 2020 budget. Additionally, other counties have offered to help Fannin before the next inspection. Cherokee County’s ISO employee is actively assisting FCFD.

Thomas has placed several calls to the ISO Inspector to schedule the re-inspection but hasn’t received a response as of yet. He plans to email the organization. He hopes to schedule it for next summer.

Fire Chief Thomas Delivers First ISO Update

News, Police & Government
Thomas

BLUE RIDGE, GA – Fire Chief Larry Thomas delivered his first ISO update to the board of commissioners on Sept. 24 and reported that he has hired a temporary person for hydro-maintenance as well as added new training classes.

After last month’s report of Fannin County’s ISO rating increasing to a six, Thomas has implemented several methods to try and ensure a favorable report in July 2020.

Thomas has met with all the mayors in Fannin County as well as The Water Authority (TWA), and they have agreed to assist the fire department.

“Did you ever have any luck finding any companies that will do the flow tests or is that something the cities are agreeing to help?” asked Post One Earl Johnson.

Johnson stressed the importance of the ISO issue.

Thomas confirmed that Blue Ridge is providing the county with flow test data that is has recorded. The information from Blue Ridge goes back three years. McCaysville hasn’t offered that information but has promised to help in any way possible.

The temporary worker performing hydro-maintenance is servicing 20-27 hydrants a day, and Thomas would like to hire another temporary employee to assist with the 800 plus hydrants.

Chairman Stan Helton asked, “How long is it going to take them to [finish maintenance]?”

Thomas hopes the contracted workers will finish by the end of 2019. Then perform the maintenance again in early 2020, so when the insurance person comes back, the county will have two years completed.

The flow tests and maintenance should help the county earn up to seven points in the water department section of the ISO test. The money to pay for the hydrant servicing will come out of the fire department’s operations budget.

Johnson commented, “Have we found any contractors that do [flow tests] because I’m glad we have a guy going around greasing everything, but I think they need to be doing the correct flow test while they’re doing it.”

“I’ve talked to one,” confirmed Thomas, “I think he quoted me $75 per hydrant which would be $60,000 to do all of them. He would be able to do it, but I don’t know the time frame he would give for 800 hydrants.”

Two years of flow tests would each cost $60,000.

“The contract labor that you’re talking about hiring, they’re not going to be able to do an actual flow test,” stated Johnson, “They’re flowing the hydrant, just so we’re clear on the difference, a flow test has how many gallons per minute and probably pressure at that hydrant…We might want to look into if a contractor can do it all for $75 a hydrant.”

TWA’s looking to see if any other companies have done flow tests on record. Also, Thomas wants to see if the cities will help cover the costs of the flow tests.

Flow tests and maintenance needs to be performed every year.

For the fire department personnel section, the county has to hire paid firefighters, responding to fire calls, as well as preplanning for commercial, industrial, and institution buildings. Together, these efforts should increase the test score.

“We really need to start talking about that coming toward budget time to see what we can do to help the department,” stated Johnson, “Because I think that is another area that we’re going to have to move toward is having full-time fighters.”

Currently, a new rookie class is in training as well as additional training being offered volunteers.

“We will continue to do as much public safety education as possible to gain points in that area,” said Thomas, “Additionally, Cherokee County Georgia Fire Chief Tim Prather has offered the services of his Investigations Manager Cheri Collett to assist us in reviewing the ISO findings.”

Collett’s expertise is free of charge for Fannin County. She will begin as soon as possible.

“If we keep saying it’s not going to raise things that much by one point, it’s really not going to be worth the county spending a bunch of extra money. So, we need to make our mind up, does the ISO rating mean anything or nothing,” stated Johnson, “We’re all in agreement that the ISO rating needs to go in the other direction. So to go in the other direction, it’s going to take money. I think we all understand that, so I don’t think we need to keep saying it’s not that big a difference.”

Thomas agreed and added that he believes in the fire department is progressing with the ISO rating and overall.
Helton added he would like to see how much it will cost the county to get the ISO rating back down.

Johnson finished with, “I was able to witness first-hand the need for some full-time firefighters. There was a fire in my neck of the woods and we should be very thankful for volunteers that participate. The glaringly obvious thing that I saw for all of your department, there needed to be more people.”

Thomas Addresses ISO Rate Change and Presents Action Plan

News
ISO Rate

Blue Ridge, Ga – Fire Chief Larry Thomas presented his plan to lower Fannin County’s ISO rate by 2020.

Fannin County recently moved up to a six from a five on the ISO fire insurance rating, which caused many in the county to worry about their insurance increasing.

The last ISO evaluation occurred in 2012, and since then, significant protocol changes were put into place concerning scoring.

Thomas’s three-fold plan consists of flow tests, personnel, and fire planning to get the score back down by the July 2020 reevaluation.

“There are now more requirements for personnel, training, and response to fire calls,” said Thomas.

The current increased rate won’t go into effect until November 2019.

According to Thomas, ISO requires three volunteers to one paid personnel on the scene of a fire. Due to that ratio, if the county dispatched out three stations, Fannin would need to have between 60 to 80 firefighters on staff. This rule changed in 2014.

However, if Fannin dispatches out from one fire station and used the engines and tankers from other stations, then the personnel numbers change.

“It’s a numbers game,” stated Thomas.

The infrastructure of the county also changed since the last evaluation, which needs pre-fire planning. However, the fire department hasn’t had the time to dedicate to that task.

Currently, the paid EMS employees are trained firefighters, but medicals have increased to almost 500 a month, and their first responsibility is to that service. Volunteers also have less time to dedicate to firefighting due to job commitments.

Yearly hydrant and flow testing will be instituted to check for pressure and flow rates. Thomas confirmed he spoke with Mayor England and Mayor Seabolt in person and Mayor Whitener on the telephone to discuss the plans.

“It’s going to take us helping too as far as the way ISO wants these water studies done as far as the pressure testing, flow testing, and so forth,” commented Thomas.

Fannin County hasn’t recently conducted any flow testing.

Post Two Glenn Patterson inquired, “How hard do you think it will be [to get the score back down]?”

“My plan is to have it set early next year, so by July we can have a reevaluation,” stated Thomas.

Image from a past fire in Blue Ridge.

Thomas downplayed the idea of a 10 percent increase in insurance rates. He spoke to several insurance representatives and one expressed the opinion that the difference in a five and a six rating isn’t huge.

For homes to receive even lower ratings, they need to be within five miles of station and access to pressurized water.

Chairman Stan Helton asked, “How long will it take for them to change the classification?”

Thomas didn’t have an exact date or timeframe but assumed it would go “a whole lot quicker” since they would only be reevaluating two years of data.

“How soon would we have to hire these firefighters?” questioned Patterson.
The fire department’s budgeted to hire two on each shift for a total of six new firefighters.

“Lack of firefighters because five or six years ago, we had 25 firefighters show up at the scene and the numbers were good, but maybe two of those were full time,” commented Thomas.

Thomas also confirmed that he would ask his contact Michael Stokes about hiring two additional firefighters to see if it will even make a difference.

Post One Earl Johnson stated, “I don’t care about 10, 20, 30 years ago, I’m talking about learning that our ISO rating went up in the newspaper. If this was a problem in 2018, I think it should have been brought up somewhere in a meeting between now and then. We’re facing this, and we’re going to have to look at this in budgeting.”

Johnson even suggested he might have hesitated on rolling back the millage rate as much if he had known about this earlier.

Thomas knew the results of the ISO evaluation on August 14 and stated the personnel requirement changes were announced through the website only.

The ISO representative didn’t want to see the new equipment or stay the traditional five days for his report. He only reviewed paperwork and stayed around four hours.

“I don’t understand anything about it, but the county has spent oodles of money, and I am not saying it negatively, but we’ve spent a lot of money in seven years for this to pop up,” commented Johnson, “I don’t like knowing afterward at all. I promise you from here on out it’s going to be one of my concerns.”

Helton proposed a monthly or bimonthly update to keep the commissioners involved the progress on lowering the rating.

Counties around Fannin fall within the four to seven ISO rating.

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