The Palatka Fire Chief Chris Taylor recently announced to the City Commission that his department was awarded an ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating of 2, a distinction that places it among the top-performing fire departments nationwide.
The ISO rating, also known as the Public Protection Classification (PPC), is a benchmark for fire departments, evaluating their capabilities, equipment, and the adequacy of the water supply system in the community. Ratings are assigned on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the highest and 10 indicating a lower level of fire protection readiness.
Only 2,000 of the 36,000 fire departments in the county have earned a rating of 2 or higher.
One of the benefits of achieving such a high ISO rating is the potential impact on insurance costs for Palatka’s residents and businesses. Insurance companies often use ISO ratings to assess the level of fire protection in a community, with lower ratings often resulting in reduced insurance premiums.
“What it does for us is set benchmarks to make sure that we’re the best we can be and that we’re trying to get better. We’re in a very elite group. Out of 36,000 fire departments, we’re in a group of 2,000.” said Chief Taylor,” But for me and every other City fighter, it’s always a journey, not a destination. The ISO requires 192 training hours for every firefighter for ISO. The state has other requirements for us, so we’re doing about 400 hours of training every year, every one of us.”
Chief Taylor says a low ISO score is not attained easily. Inspectors visit the department and check records, equipment, and especially training.
For Chief Talyor, training for the lower ISO score is more important than lower insurance rates.
“Every firefighter in the City of Palatka trains because we know training saves lives,” said Taylor.
The City Fire Department presently has 21 firefighters and is recruiting to bring the staff to 24. The department is on duty 24 hours a day, every day, with at least eight firefighters split between two stations.
Chief Taylor is extremely proud of this staff and firefighters but also credits other City departments. Taylor says that part of the ISO evaluation is looking at the City’s fire hydrants and the water pressure available to put out fires. He credits the work of the City’s Water
and Public Works Department in maintaining this infrastructure.
“We are deeply indebted to the hard work of the Water Department because they’re part of this evaluation.” said Chief Taylor, “Without water, we can’t put out fires. Having hydrants that supply water saves lives and property.”
City firefighters regularly test fire hydrants to make sure they are flowing correctly.
Chief Taylor also credits his department’s partnership with the City Police.
“We work as partners to serve the residents of the City.” said Chief Taylor. “The police usually arrive 1st and clear the roads for us and ensure we can get to our hydrants.”
Chief Taylor also recognizes the contributions of his predecessors, former Fire Chiefs Mike Lambert and Keith Grimes.
“Chief Lambert and Grimes started us on the path and kept us there,” said Taylor.
ISO ratings are awarded every five years. The Palatka department is working to move up to a perfect score of ISO 1, which would put them in the top 500 departments in the county.
To accomplish this, the rating agency says the department needs more firefighters, equipment and improvements to the City water system.
“The Palatka Fire Department and the City are working to be the best department we can be,” said Chief Taylor.