Taylors Bridge Fire Department will soon be expanding, and is working toward lowering insurance premiums for residents in the process.
Taylors Bridge Fire Chief Keith Powell gave an update this week on the proposed project, which would bring the first expansion the station has seen in nearly three decades.
“Our current building was built in 1986 and we have not built on to this day,” Powell said. “We did start a ATV Rescue Team that assists this county, countywide. It is in our budget and our cost. That required two additional pieces of equipment, which filled our building up. We have two trucks in one bay, and you can never have the right truck at the front door.”
Earlier this week, the Sampson Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution approving the tax-exempt financing by First Citizens Bank of the fire station addition in the principal amount of $225,000.
“It’s definitely time to expand,” the chief said. We’ve just outgrown our building and it’s time to add on. It’s just two bays and one large equipment room out back. It will look just like our building now. We’ll follow the same roof line and add two bays on the south end and one equipment room out back.”
A loan to a volunteer fire department that provides for tax-exempt financing must be approved by the county or city that has jurisdiction over the area served by that fire department. A public hearing must be held regarding its intention to pursue such financing. The project is in the department’s current year budget and that hearing has been held, Powell said.
“It’s no tax increase and it’s been allocated for,” he noted. “We had our community meeting, with no opposition to the project.”
Chairman Billy Lockamy expressed the need to lower the department’s ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating.
ISO ratings for local fire departments are used by insurance companies to determine premiums for homeowner policies in that area. ISO uses the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule — a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best score.
“That would save the citizens of your area probably 25 to 30 percent on their homeowner’s rates,” said Lockamy, an insurance agent by trade.
Powell said the department “is in conversations” toward lowering that rating, saying a consultant A.C. Daniels is going to assist the department at no cost.
“As of last week, we are in the process of lowering our rating. (The consultant) said, with the equipment we have currently, he could easily see us getting a 6,” said Powell, who noted a “very young group” at Taylors Bridge who are training several nights a week, making the task of lowering the ISO rating even tougher. “We are currently working on that as hard as we can.”
Lockamy said he was glad to hear that, noting the “excellent job” that Taylors Bridge and other volunteer departments across the county do every day. He still emphasized the need to lower that rating.
“We have only three left (that haven’t lowered their rating),” Lockamy said, before adding that Taylors Bridge had one of the lowest fire district tax rates at 7 cents, second only to Newton Grove Fire Department. That department has lowered its ISO rating to a 6, as has Vann Crossroads and Halls, Lockamy noted.
He said he wanted to see the same from Taylors Bridge.
“I want to see all departments try to lower their rating if they can,” the chairman attested. “Right now is an excellent time, if you can expand and get your new equipment.”
As part of the ISO process, departments are graded on a 100-point scale, including factors relating to training and equipment, location of the fire stations in the community, communications and water resources and accessibility. Powell said the department was currently gauging its “water points.”
“I’m extremely proud of you guys and how hard you’re working and what a good job you do,” said Commissioner Sue Lee.
Lockamy echoed that sentiment. A 21-year veteran of Halls Fire Department himself, Lockamy said he appreciated the dedication of volunteer firefighters.
“I do appreciate the good work you do. Like I said, I cannot say enough about us trying to get our ratings lower for the citizens of the county,” he remarked. “We’re down to three departments.”
Powell said once the rating is lower, keeping there would likely require the addition of paid staff, similar to what Roseboro is seeing now.
“Paid staff during the daytime is going to be an issue. That’s not far down the road,” Powell said. “That’s one reason we want to lower our (rating). If we had to raise the tax to pay that, having insurance lowered would help ease that burden some. That’s a discussion for a different day, but that is coming.”
Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.