The Community, the Economy, and the Public Protection Classification Program

A Conversation with Robert L. Andrews

Robert AndrewsTo some extent, the basics of firefighting have remained the same for years: respond to fires quickly and protect life and property. However, the tactics and technology are continually changing: pumps get bigger, water supplies get stronger, and communication improves. ISO’s Public Protection Classification (PPCTM) reflects those changes. Verisk Review recently spoke with Robert Andrews, vice president of Community Hazard Mitigation at ISO, who is responsible for countrywide implementation of ISO’s PPC program.


Verisk Review: How does the ISO PPC program work?

Robert Andrews: The ISO PPC program differentiates ten classes of community structural fire protection — evaluating everything from fire department equipment, staffing levels, and training to the availability and adequacy of water supply and emergency communication centers. Whether a community receives a Class 1 rating, which is a superior level of protection, or Class 10, which reflects unrecognized protection, the community, its residents, businesses, government leaders, and insurers know exactly their fire protection status.

Beyond helping support a community’s fire safety, a PPC review can serve as an added incentive for a town to improve its fire protection. Fire officials are aware that a class improvement could result in lowering insurance premiums for homeowners and businesses. And municipal governments recognize that spending tax dollars on the right firefighting priorities can have a direct financial benefit for their citizens.

Verisk Review: What are the economic benefits of fire mitigation?

Andrews: During tough economic times, municipalities resort to belt-tightening that eases only a bit when it comes to essential services (that is, police and fire). Yet spending money on fire protection and prevention is increasingly seen as an economic development tool. Municipalities and chambers of commerce are not only taking notice — they’re also starting to lead the way. Towns are increasingly using their PPC class as a means to attract and retain businesses.

Our most recent data on nearly 49,000 fire districts shows that the number of districts in Classes 1 through 5 went up from 26.4 percent in 2004 to 33.7 percent in 2012, while districts in Classes 8 through 10 went down from 41.4 percent to 35.7 percent.

Cities and towns promote fire protection as an economic benefit of their local business climate. Municipalities hold press conferences to announce a new, lower PPC class. The website for the city of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, touts its rating, stating that the PPC “…designation means lower fire insurance premiums for commercial businesses and industries, which vastly improves the community’s economic development prospects.” Similarly, the website for Temple Terrace, Florida, notes, “The ISO rating…is an important incentive to economic development as the city attracts new businesses and oversees the expansion of existing businesses.”

Verisk Review: How does ISO apply the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS) to the PPC process?

Andrews: ISO uses the FSRS, its manual for reviewing the firefighting capabilities of individual communities, to evaluate fire protection areas. Fire personnel and insurers also use it extensively. And even though it remains largely unknown to the average person, the FSRS is important to all.

To create a reliable framework for the FSRS, ISO works closely with fire chiefs, insurers, regulators at all levels, and fire protection and code enforcement experts. We incorporate national consensus standards from, among others, the National Fire Protection Association, the American Water Works Association, and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International to ensure that our evaluations best reflect modern fire prevention and suppression capabilities.

To help ensure that PPC designations keep up with changes in fire protection and continue to provide reliable benchmarks for insurers, we’re introducing an update to ISO’s FSRS.

Verisk Review: Can you provide an overview of the revisions to the FSRS?

Andrews: Our latest filing (December 2012) revised the FSRS with changes that will add an emphasis on a community’s efforts to limit loss before an actual fire event.

For those familiar with the previous version, the FSRS will continue to evaluate three major categories of fire suppression: emergency communications, fire departments, and water supply. Moreover, it will now include a new Community Risk Reduction section regarding community efforts to reduce losses through fire prevention, public fire safety education, and fire investigation. This addition represents a shift in emphasis, crediting points for those communities that strive proactively to reduce fire severity through a structured program of fire prevention activities.

A key component of Community Risk Reduction should be a fire cause and origin investigation program with adequate fire investigator staffing, proper certification, continuing education, and incident reporting. Our evaluation now includes fire prevention programs that contain plan review; certificate of occupancy inspections; compliance follow-up; inspection of fire protection equipment; and fire prevention regulations related to fire lanes on area roads, hazardous material routes, fireworks, barbecue grills, and wildland-urban interface areas.

Another new area is related to public fire safety education programs, which include fire safety educator training; fire education programs for schools, private homes, and buildings with large loss potential or hazardous conditions; and a juvenile fire-setter intervention program.

Verisk Review: What lies ahead?

Andrews: More and more people are becoming aware of the safety and financial impact of fires. Municipal budget priorities may have to accommodate those new realities. Economic development agencies, chambers of commerce, and individual commercial building owners are recognizing the appeal of doing business in a well-protected community and are being proactive in their communities’ risk reduction.

What owner of commercial space wouldn’t want to promote decreasing a building’s risk and lowering the associated insurance rates? What town or chamber of commerce wouldn’t want to say they have their state’s best fire prevention program? Reducing the risk of fire loss not only protects the community — it’s good business.