You Need to Know, Before the ISO

Carl was just over a year into his job as a chief of a seven-station department located in a southeastern state of the US. His department was a fire and rescue unit that fought about 50 significant fires each year and responded to over 2,000 EMS incidents.  The department had experienced 11 civilian fatalities in that year and 3 fire fighter injuries, but by NFPA stats this was below average, and Carl was proud of the performance of his crew.

So when the ISO (Insurance Services Office) inspector showed up at Carl’s station one morning in June, he wasn’t overly concerned. Before he had become chief, Carl had seen the ISO guys come in from time to time. You never knew exactly what they would be asking for during an inspection.

The manual says ISO checks three main areas: emergency communications, fire department operations and community risk reduction. This is formally referred to as a Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS), and there is a maximum score of 50.

The FSRS seeks to ensure every department regularly tests it equipment and maintains inventory on each of its vehicle to be in accordance of the well-known NFPA 1901 standards. ISO officers also want to know about training — how often it is conducted and who participates. They want to be sure the apparatuses and equipment are being inspected frequently, and that repairs are promptly completed. Of course, they want to know how quickly and efficiently the department responds to emergencies.

Carl was confident that his department was well within compliance. His teams covered every section of FSRS, including daily inventory checks on each apparatus and regular pump tests.

The ISO officer asked to see the records for two checklists on a single vehicle for two separate days.

Whether the inspector found a needle in the haystack, or maybe the request proved out a hunch the inspector had developed after years of experience, it turned out that the firefighter completing the inspection had not put in pump test results in either checklist on both days requested.

The fallout was that the ISO inspector dinged Carl’s department risk rating, which had been class 1. This increased their insurance rates, which did not go unnoticed. It gave Carl a black mark on this record which was reported to the county and city council.

How could Carl have known about this oversight? He could have gone through the manual records every night at his kitchen table to be sure they were perfect … or he also could have implemented a 21st century computerized system that makes sure oversights like this are reported across the entire department and don’t fall between the cracks.

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