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King George fire and rescue ratings improve

King George County residents should get better news in their future bills for homeowners’ insurance.

The county got significantly better ratings in the most recent study of the King George Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services. And better ratings should equate to lower premiums, said Phillip Leitma, a senior field representative with Insurance Services Office.

The New Jersey-based business works for insurance companies, providing them with data about fire departments in 45,000 cities and counties across the nation. Insurance companies use the data to determine rates residents will pay for homeowners’ insurance.

“We don’t always have good news to share, and this is good news,” Leitma said.

King George received the ISO report in late November, but supervisors didn’t discuss it at the time. They said they would have an ISO representative come speak to them in February to explain the results.

The ISO rates departments on a scale of one to 10, with Class 1 being the best.

It gives one score for the fire protection offered to properties within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant and 5 miles of a fire station.

King George was a Class 5 in this category in 2013. That’s an improvement of one grade since 2002, when it was a Class 6.

A second score was for properties beyond 1,000 feet of a hydrant, but still within 5 miles of a firehouse. The county improved from a Class 9 in 2002 to a Class 6 rating in 2013, “which is a big deal,” Chief David Moody said in December.

ISO also determines that any property more than 5 miles from a fire station is automatically a Class 10.

A substantial portion of the rural county falls into this category, according to a map shown by Leitma. But what the map didn’t show is that King George has mutual aid agreements with fire departments in Caroline, Stafford and Westmoreland counties, as well as with the Navy base in Dahlgren. Some of these companies may be closer, as the crow flies, to homes and businesses in King George, and these departments provide needed fire coverage.

Leitma said he sees these kind of mutual aid agreements across the county and hailed them as a way for communities to pool their resources and help each other.

Supervisor Dale Sisson Jr. was encouraged to hear that. He said that “mutual aid isn’t always seen as a good thing by some, and you’re saying it’s a positive thing.”

In past years, the King George department has been criticized for not being able to cover emergencies within its borders. A Dahlgren house fire in 2010 raised alarms when Maryland firefighters crossed the Potomac River to help fight flames, then were criticized when the response didn’t go well. The incident highlighted the number of times companies from Maryland and the Navy base were responding to calls because King George didn’t have the manpower to do so.

King George did get low marks in the evaluation for the number of career and volunteer firefighters on staff, but the county is addressing that issue. It’s in the midst of hiring six fire and rescue workers for the Fairview Beach Fire and Rescue Company. With the new hires, the county will have paid workers—two for each shift, around the clock—assigned there.

Leitma also told the supervisors that the fire department improved its ratings by voluntarily conducting an exercise last summer for ISO representatives. The department held a mock fire at the King George Industrial Park and used three tankers, engine and pumper truck to shuttle water from other sources to the simulated fire. The exercise showed the ISO representatives that the county can get water to structure fires that are beyond the reach of hydrants, Moody said.

Supervisor Chairman Joe Grzeika thanked the ISO, as well as the county officials who helped gather all the data needed for the study.

“We appreciate the report,” he said. “It’s good news for the county.”

The new ratings take effect in March.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425


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