McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

March 17, 2013

ISO fire rating improves

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — “This is really a big deal.” Those were the words of Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John D. Doak, when he came to McAlester Wednesday to help celebrate the Insurance Service Office ranking for the McAlester Fire Department improving from a Class 4 to a Class 3.

With rankings judged on a scale of one to 10 — and with number 1 considered tops — state and city officials gathered at City Hall on Tuesday to celebrate the achievement. “We have over 1,600 fire departments” in the state of Oklahoma, Doak said.

Less than 52 have an ISO Class 3 rating, he said. Approximately 49,000 fire departments operate across the United States, Doak said. “Less than 2,500 in the United States are threes,” he said.

Many insurance companies use the ISO rating to determine risks to insured property. “That’s one of the first things they look at,” Doak said. “Every homeowner in the area should be glad to see you moving in this direction.”

To determine a rating, the ISO reviews fire-fighting capabilities of fire departments, as well as related factors such as response time and water and hydrant availability. Rural Fire Coordinator for Southeast Oklahoma Larry Morgan, who works with the Kiamichi Development District of Oklahoma, opened the celebration.

He said a lot of people participated in making the higher rating possible. “I want to take my hat off to the chief,” Morgan said, referring to McAlester Fire Chief Brett Brewer. He noted the change in rating didn’t come easy. “We had some hurdles we had to go through,” Morgan said.

In addition to the fire department, City Utilities Director David Medley and his staff also worked to achieve the improved ISO rating, since the requirements also have a lot to do with a water availability and the location of fire hydrants throughout the city.

Among those who worked closely with the city to achieve the change was Kevin Stoneking, the ISO field coordinator for the Oklahoma Insurance Department and a retired firefighter from the Oklahoma City Fire Department.

“I want to congratulate you guys. Dropping down to a three — that’s awesome,” Stoneking said. Mayor Steve Harrison also offered his congratulations. “This is a very significant day,” Harrison said. He also noted Morgan’s work with the city “Larry does a wonderful job,” he said.

“I know you put in a lot of time and effort.” Chief Brewer noted the contributions of the fire department staff and of Medley and his department. The official change in the ISO rating for the city is set to go into effect in June.

Does that mean every homeowner’s home policy insurance rates will immediately drop shortly thereafter? Not necessarily and in some cases, not at all — although some could indeed see the lower rates, according to Doak. McAlester’s new Class 3 ISO ranking is set to go into effect June 1.

“The ISO is going to notify the carriers,” Doak said, referring to insurance companies. Some policies could go to a lower rate shortly after the new ISO ranking goes into effect, while some insurance carriers wait for a policy renewal to reflect the change, according to Doak.

Some companies, such as State Farm, don’t use an ISO ranking to determine insurance rates, opting to use a different system, the insurance commissioner said. While lower insurance rates due to a better ISO ranking aren’t required by law, Doak said it’s not unusual to see home insurance policy holders get lower rates due to an improved ISO rating.

“We could say, hypothetically, there will be some reduction,” he said. Doak also said insurance companies that keep their rates too high stand to lose customers. He advised those with insurance policies to “shop around about every three years” to make sure they are getting the best rates.

Even if the new rating doesn’t result in a decrease in home insurance rates for all policy holders in McAlester, it could keep rates from rising for some, according to the state Insurance Department.

Doak also elaborated on his statement about McAlester’s change from a 4 to a 3 in its ISO rating and how it could affect home policy insurance rates.

“This is a really big deal,” he said, “because if it was going the other way, rates would be going up.” Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

For more on this story, see the print or electronic editions of the McAlester News-Capital. Click here for print edition home delivery or click here to see the Smart Edition for your computer, tablet, e-reader or smartphone.