Your Next I. S. O. Rating simple Solutions

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Your Next I.S.O. RATING

Simple Solutions

Your Next I.S.O. RATING

Simple Solutions

By Larry Stevens

(775) 224-0476


Web page:

Copyright 1980 thru 9 March, 2004

ISO™ is a registered trademark

Introduction 1

My Consulting Services 2

Success Stories 4

Choosing a Consultant 10

It’s ISO™ Time! 12

It Doesn’t Really Matter?…Doing It For the People 13

It Doesn’t Work That Way Here! 14

From a Class 6 to a Class 1 16

What is State Farm Up To? 17

ISO™ Differences Between States 19

Legislative Support 20


Fire Flow Sheet 21

Receiving and Handling Alarms 23


Question: What is ISO looking for in the water portion of the grade? 25

Answer: They are looking to see if you can match the needed fire flows of the buildings in your town with the water system in the form of flows, hydrant spacing and supply. In addition, they want to make sure you are testing and maintaining it to the national standards. 25

When you look around town, does it appear the hydrants were placed wherever they fell off the truck? There are specific codes that spell out spacing, flows and placement, but were they used in your town, or did the expert in planning and prevention or the chief’s office make all of these decisions off the cuff? 25

Discharge Tables 27

Power of 54 chart 29

Supply Works Capacity 35

Hydrant Colors 36

Hydrants Types, Style and Inspection 38

Hydrants: Size, Type & Installation 38

Hydrant Spacing 40


Equipment on Existing Apparatus 41

Equipment Substitutions 46

Response to Structure Fires 50

NFPA or ISO™ 52

Personnel 55

Got Pre-Fire Plans? 57

Divergence 62

Distribution 63

Pump Capacity 65

Fire Department Supply 66

Rural Water Supplies 66

How Much Water? 68

Credit By Demonstration 71

How Much Water on Wheels? 73

Sample ISO™ Invite Letter 75

Shuttles 77

Gallon per Minute Rate Per Tanker 80

Sample Tanker Shuttle Drill 82

Procedures 83

Long Hose Lays 84

Needed Data & Video 92

Relay GPM 94

Station Travel Time 95

Letters 97

Drafting 98

Who Decides? 101

Smart Ways Around the Rules 102

When Can You Invite ISO™ back? 102

A Tale of Two Ratings 104

The City Rating 104

The Rural Rating 107

When Your Rating Goes Up 110

Where Do You Start? 113

The ISO™ Guy is Due Here in 45 Days! 115

The Program 117

Sample Point Total Sheets 123

Commercial 148

Best Ratings 153

Public Protection Class 1’s 153

Breakdown of Class 1-10 155

Top 20 ISO™ Classes Fire Department Supply Ratings 157

In Writing! 159

My References 161

ISO™ 's Phone Numbers and Email Addresses 200


I set about writing this book in 1979 when as the Assistant Coordinator of Nevada State Fire Service Training and then later when the office was moved to the Nevada state fire marshal office of fire service training. I was confronted by endless questions from the state’s firefighters and chiefs about this new thing called the ISO™ Grading Schedule. That next year, the grading schedule changed and I started collecting data. This book is updated at least every three months. What is ISO™? The Insurance Services Office (ISO™) is a for profit monopoly that is authorized by your state legislature or Department of Insurance and is used in essentially the same form in 50 states (Washington and Mississippi has their own state system based upon the 1974 schedule and 3 other states have state run systems using the same ISO™ rules as everyone else) to rate community fire defenses. ISO™ then sells that data to the insurance industry for the purposes of establishing insurance rates. Why do they want to collect this data? Simple, over the last 10 years at least 122 billion dollars in insured fire losses have occurred in the U.S. Over 35% of all claims paid on homeowner policies are for fire losses versus just 6% for liability claims. ISO™ and its predecessors have been rating communities since 1916. In 1889 the National Board of Fire Underwriters (NBFO) started grading fire protection. The NBFU was merged into ISO™ in 1971. The goal of rating communities is to provide better insurance rate equity in recognizing public fire suppression abilities.

So who uses ISO™ ratings? According to ISO™, virtually every insurance carrier uses their data to calculate rates. The ISO™ audit is a totally open book test. The only problem is they don’t share the whole book and the rules with the fire services. Thus the purpose for this free guide. The ISO™ rating play a part setting commercial, contents, homeowner, crop and rental insurance rates. ISO™ rates communities every 10 years if their population is over 25,000 or 15 years if they are under 25,000. In addition, they send out questionnaires every 30 months. Depending upon how you fill out form you can trigger an audit. Changes in district boundaries, station locations, automatic aid agreements, number and type of apparatus and many others could also result in an early audit. Anytime a community can prove to ISO™ they can improve their grade, ISO™ will come out and re-rate the community.
The ISO™ completes four evaluations and awards individual grades for the following:

  1. A review of the communications and dispatch facilities.

  2. A review of the water system and supplies.

  3. A review of the fire department.

  4. And a community wide grade combined of the three above.

The community wide grade has a 100 point score and is made up of communications which counts for 10%, water supply which totals 40% and the fire department is worth 50%. Every ten points is a Class. The grade is presented in a Class 1 to 10 format with Class 1 being the best and Class 9 being the worst with a fire department. A Class 10 indicates no creditable fire protection is available within 5 miles.

Points Needed for Each Class

% Credit Class % Credit Class

90.0 – 100 1 40.0 - 49.9 6

80.0 – 89.9 2 30.0 – 39.9 7

70.0 – 79.9 3 20.0 – 29.9 8

60.0 – 69.9 4 10.0 - 19.9 9

50.0 – 59.9 5 0.1 - 9.9 10

The grading audit simply measures compliance to a few national minimum standards in the respective areas. Examples of questions asked are: Can a caller find the fire department number in the phone book? Does the water system match the needed fire flow requirements of the buildings in the community? Is the fire department capable of addressing the possible fires in the city? Are your ladders long enough to reach the buildings you protect?
A Class 1 community pays the lowest possible rates and scores 90% or better on meeting the ISO™ portions of the national standards in communications, fire department and water supply. A Class 5 pays medium rates and meets 50 to 60% of the national standards. A Class 9 is the worst grade given for any form of recognized fire protection and only scores 10 to 20%. There is at least 62% swing in rates controlled by the rating and as much as 340%.
A poll of the Nation’s fire chiefs indicates the importance of ISO™ ratings and public fire protection. Sixty two percent say it effects budget decisions. Seventy percent say it saves people money but more importantly 90% say it is important to saving lives and property. ISO™ collects data from all fire loses in the U.S. What they have found is insurance companies pay out less in claims in communities with better ISO™ ratings. In fact, there is 340% difference top to bottom on commercial losses and a 297% difference on residential losses. Good fire protection is an investment in saving lives and property.
Loss per $1,000 valuation Source: ISO™

Class Commercial Residential Class Commercial Residential

1 $0.25 $0.37 6 $0.45 $0.55

2 $0.30 $0.37 7 $0.55 $0.75

3 $0.35 $0.42 8 $0.60 $0.78

4 $0.37 $0.45 9 $0.68 $0.79

5 $0.38 $0.49 10 $0.85 $1.10
My Consulting Services

The most common question I get is, “how did you gather all this info on how to improve a departments rating?” The answer is simple, with so much at stake, cities, towns, taxing districts, fire boards, unions, associations, counties, fire districts and get this, even insurance agents have hired me as an expert to give them a better chance of scoring better on their next rating. If you are a Class 9 or 10, the cost to fix what ails you will always be 10 to 15 less than the yearly savings per homeowner will be. Over the last 20 years I’ve helped 400 communities in 42 states preparing for their ISO™ ratings lower their grades. Communities as large as Houston, Texas (the 4th largest FD in the US population 2 million and the largest city rated by ISO™ ) and as small as Kingston, Nevada (population 110) have used me to be their agent. Most fire chiefs have never had to face an ISO™ evaluation. Very few will ever do it twice. Can you imagine what the consequences of a few key mistakes can make for the next 10 to 15 years? Can you say millions of dollars? Consequently chief’s, fire boards, city and county manager’s are looking for someone who has. Their first requirement is a track record of success. I’ve been pretty lucky in that category. Why hire a consultant? Because the ISO™ sends in a non-firefighter bean counter into your fire department looking out for the insurance industry. You are armed with their 50 page Rating Schedule. In addition, ISO™ hides almost 1000 pages of rules you do not have access to, but holds you accountable for all of them. I’ve been pretty lucky helping with grades:

*The biggest and smallest towns in the U.S. with Class 1’s.

*Best ISO Grade in the U.S, 13 times.

*The highest paid department score ever attained 97.01 points.

*The highest volunteer department score ever attained 95.27 points.

*The highest score attained by a combination department 94.81 points.

*Best paid department ISO grade in the U.S, 17 times.

*Best combination fire department ISO grade in the U.S, 5 times.

*Best volunteer department ISO grade in the U.S, 8 times.

*Best ISO rural water supply grade in the U.S, 12 times.

*Best ISO hose lay grade in the U.S, 8 times.

*Best ISO tanker shuttle grade in the U.S, 8 times.

*Best largest city ISO grade in the U.S, 3 times.

*Best smallest town ISO grade in the U.S, 9 times.

*First and only volunteer department ISO Class 1’s in the U.S, three times.

*Combination department ISO Class 1’s,43 times.

*Best ISO grade in Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and New Mexico.

*Best paid department ISO grade in Arizona, Nevada, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, and New Mexico.

* Best volunteer department ISO grade in Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Texas,

Pennsylvania, and North Carolina,

*Best Combination department ISO grade in Texas and Arizona.

*Best rural ISO water supply grades in Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Colorado, California, New Mexico, North Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia.

*Largest class drops in rating history 3 times, 8 classes at 3 times; 7 classes at once, 3 times; 6 classes at one time, 5 times; 5 classes at 3 times, 5 classes, 4 times; and 4 classes at one time 5 times.

* Largest class drop to the coveted Class 1: 8 class drop, 3 times; 5 classes, twice; and 5 classes twice and four classes, 3 times.

*29 of the top 32 rural water supply grades in the country (All Class 5 or better, most 2, 3 or 4’s),

*My average reduction on my last 35 grades with fire hydrants is 3.34 Classes!

*My average reduction on my last 16 grades without fire hydrants is 5.61 Classes!

*In just three years of ISO in Texas, I've helped make all 7 Class 1's. There are only 43 total Class 1's in the U.S. California is 1st with 9 (with 5 of those no longer rated), Florida and Louisiana tied for3rd with 5, Illinois 5th with 4, Nevada 6th with 3 and 9 other states have 1 or 2 each.

What I Do

I’m often asked, “what exactly do you do?” I provide a pre-audit that tells you what you would score today, how much money you could save if you improved the grade and create an action plan to attain a much better grade. You get all of that in a written report. I will present my findings to your elected officials if you wish to help you get support and funding to attain the goal. I will hold your hand and make sure you do what it takes to reach your goal or exceed it. I help you collect all the required information for the rating and package it in a useable form. Assist the department in getting money to fund upgrades from the elected officials ISO™ related or otherwise. Make presentations to your bosses to help make your case and win approval. Work with the water and communications arms of government to make sure they are on the same page for the rating. Help the community make needed upgrades in fire protection in a more rapid fashion than they might normally act. One constant is not to do a single thing just for the rating unless it improves community fire protection services. Specify new apparatus for the department. Write and receive grants for fire apparatus, equipment and water systems. Create innovative low cost solutions to solve gaps in the community fire defenses. I will put together programs to train the fire fighters on how to pass the hands on portions of the rating. And finally present their community’s data to the ISO™ field agent when he is in town and perform all the necessary follow up and make sure the community gets the grade we set out to get. The end goal is to make it as easy as possible on the graded department to score the maximum points and use all of the rules available. What’s more is have in place a guide for the next rating so you know how you got the current grade and how to repeat it or improve it. My last two gradings were scheduled for 5 and 10 days. One took 3 1/2 hours and the other barely 2 days. In each case the departments dropped 5 and 6 Classes each!

So what do you charge? Typically, less than $5000 plus airfare, meals and lodging to do all the above. Larger areas a bit more. Simply give me a call or email and I’ll email back a specific quote.
I try and bring neighboring departments and governments together to accomplish a goal. Recently in Marion, Virginia and Seabrook, Texas the elected government and the fire departments were at war. In both cases I was able to get the embattled entities together and move them forward. In Marion, that meant an entire fleet of five fully equipped fire apparatus with full support of government. The fire department only asked for one truck. In Seabrook, 67% of the voters authorized the replacement of all fire stations and apparatus in the town of 10,000 to the tune of 6.1 million dollars! In total, 9.3 million dollars was committed to improved fire protection services. Not bad for a fire department with a $300,00 a year budget.
On occasion, the rating comes back wrong from ISO™. I review each posted grade to insure you got credit where credit was deserved. In those cases I will meet with the department and ISO™ to defend the data in your records to support a better grade. My three reviews that required ISO™ visits resulted in drops in the rating from a Class 3 to a Class 1 and a Class 5 to a Class 3. Recently a department wanted credit for its police officers who responded directly to fire calls. The auditor wanted to see the firefighters protective clothing carried on the police cars. There is no requirement for them to carry gear but to simply have it available. How would the fire department know that? Their rule book is not available to the fire service. I pointed that that out to the auditor and showed it to him in his own book. Another example at the same rating was the rating came back saying the community didn’t have enough water at the test locations. We went out and re-flowed the hydrants and could prove the system if tested properly did in fact have plenty of water. ISO™ came out and re-flowed the system. During the test we found they were using hydrants for buildings 4 and 5 blocks away. In another case, the auditor only credited a few hundred gallons per minute on a rural hose lay from a draft point. I was able to sit down with him and his local and national boss and do the math for them and show how the apparatus would be employed in the operation. In another case pre-plans were not credited nor was their dual channel dispatch policy. In each case we showed them with their own paperwork they were wrong. Full credit was then given. Simply looking at what a department submitted and knowing the rule book very well I have been able to get volunteers credit for as many as 5 paid firefighters without having any on the payroll. Another pretty incredible example was having all ISO™ big shots come down to a huge city to verify the work of one of their field agents who was not longer with the company. They looked at an engine and a ladder company to see what it was missing on the ISO™ equipment list. They came back with several items on both rigs that were missing. They didn’t even share with us what was missing until I asked. What the fire chief of found out that day that the auditors couldn’t identify the items on the fire trucks to give credit nor would they give credit for item on the ISO™ substitutions lists unless the fire department pointed them out to them. Imagine having the auditor go through your apparatus and ask him if anything was missing and he gives you a list of what is not on the rig. Next thing you point out that you have approved substitutions and ask him, “do we get credit” and he says, “I don’t know.” You show him his own substitution list, he asks you, “where you got it”, you say, “on your web page.” His answer is, “I’ll have to check if the items will count.” Another example you email the top auditor at the home office and ask do we have to do flow tests in a drought. He writes back no you won’t if you have 5 years of data on all your hydrants. The field auditor comes out and makes you flow the hydrants. Finally, during a rural water supply grade I often find I am teaching the auditor what his bosses are looking for to score the grade properly. These types of things vary from state to state. In short you are responsible for making sure you get credit, don’t expect your auditor to do it for you.
Sometimes ISO™ has even changed the rule book based upon the water supply tactics I’ve taught fire departments to utilize to move water. Often communities have me review their last rating or newly posted grades to see if there are any easy ways to quickly lower their rating. Yes, many times the old grade is wrong or things that could have been counted are not credited. In most cases, the auditors I have worked with before get along very well and the grade goes fast. In addition, I have helped states create funding for fire departments based upon their ISO™ ratings.
Although I don’t advertise my services (other than people who stumble across my web page) I take every opportunity to spread the gospel of ISO™ as a good funding tool for the fire service. It is something the elected officials listen to. Some of the best examples of how to take on ISO™ that I can share are from are from the departments and students who attend classes I was invited to teach around the country. For seven years I wrote a monthly column “Your Next Rating” in Fire Rescue Magazine ( I was the editor and creator of the magazine) trying to get the word out. Over the years I kept extensive notes of what worked and what didn’t work. I’d record all the silly rules that were pulled out of thin air from the Field Procedures Manuals that are not available to the fire service. The notes from those ratings became this book. And the book became the magazine column.
So What’s the Worst that can Happen?

The first person that finds out about your new rating is not the fire department or the fire chief, it will be the Mayor, City Manager, Board or District President…the person you work for. The facts about ISO™ ratings are quite clear, most chiefs only go through one in a career. So do you wing it or get help? So what could possibly go wrong? Ask that question in Salida, Colorado or Madison, Indiana. Ask about their 2003 ratings. You’d hear that ISO™ can come in rate you and in just a few months you could drop from a Class 4 or 5 to a Class 10. Yes, a Class 10. Things can get a lot worse, it happened in both City’s. You’ll get a nice form letter telling you that you need to reply in 30 days of your intent to fix the grade or the new rating will go into effect. You’ll have a few months to present a written action plan to ISO™ on how you are going to repair the regression in the rating. What does falling from a Class 4 or 5 to a Class 10 mean in real terms? About a 300% increase in insurance rates. A quadrupling of deductibles. Maybe 20% of the original insurance providers will be able to provide coverage in your community. Most homes will not be able to get replacement insurance. In short, your fire department can have a multi-million dollar impact on the community every year for the next 10 to 15 years. You’ll also note the fire chief is often let go and occasionally the city manager as well. When Roswell, NM got a Class 4 from their prevous Class 3, the chief called and faxed me what he was sent from his field rep. It gave all kinds of options, all quite expensive. Things like add a training tower, hire more people, buy a ladder truck, etc. We didn’t use a single one. Instead we simply reviewed the rating, wrote one letter and added one fire hydrant and got the Class 3 back. It is far bettr to come in before the rating than after the bad news is delivered. In some cases when the elected leaders bring me in the fire chief is already down the road. Other departments receiving regression letters recently were Colorado Springs, CO Class 5 from a 3; Bozeman, MT Class 5 from a Class 4 ; Central Mat-Su Fire Department, Alaska from a Class 4/8B to a 5/9 and 6/10. Yes it happens more often than you might think. Those cities had lots of bad press focused on the fire services. What a consultant can offer is the avoidance of conflict. It is nice to know what your grade will be before you are rated, so you can delay the rating or go in confident there won’t be any surprises. To help cover your tail so you don’t have to face the fire over the rating or any portion of the rating.

Just when you thought you heard it all, ISO™ sometimes has to revisit a city to verify the accuracy and objectivity of their survey. Kinda makes you wonder why the objectivity would be an issue, I assume that means their auditors objectivity. Accuracy is what they send an auditor in for to verify all claims and paperwork submitted. ISO™ is also obligated to investigate complaints about the process from anyone in the community, including private citizens. Yes, a firefighter or union official can make a claim and put you under the gun to re-prove all your facts and data. City officials will be notified when such investigations are necessary. The Affidavit of Honesty, sometimes is required of fire chiefs and it may be required of water superintendents and city managers in the future. What a mess huh?

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