Cook County Fire Chief Johnny West announced last week that after a lengthy evaluation process, the Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating for unincorporated Cook County has been officially designated a 5/5Y, a considerable improvement from previous ISO ratings of 9 and 10 for much of the county.
“If your insurance premiums were rated at a 9 or a 10 (we did have a couple of areas in the community that were a 10), those ratings will drop significantly,” Chief West said. “Now, how much? I’m not sure. Number-wise, you drop almost in half.”
He added that he is uncertain how that will exactly affect insurance premiums for individual property owners: “I haven’t gotten the information from my own insurance company yet.”
The effective date for the ISO changes is Oct. 1, 2022. “This gives us about 90 days to get all the insurance companies updated and informed,” Chief West said. “The first of the month, they get an update from ISO (those are the people that regulate our rates). … This gives ISO time to get that information out to (the insurance companies), so they can start changing the rates. So, just be looking forward to it. You should be seeing something on it soon.
“It’s exciting for us. This is a huge step to go from the rating that we were to where we are at now.”
He said he is “real excited” about the rating improvement as well because his property was in an area at a 9 ISO rating.
He urged anyone who wants to help the Fire Department further to contact him or the other volunteer firefighters. He said more volunteers are needed with such tasks as driving fire trucks and handing out bottles of water.
Chief West gave a special thanks to the Cook County Board of Commissioners for supporting the Fire Department improvements and providing funding.
He added that he would like to thank the community for support as well, especially in light of the recent massive fire at Guthrie Lumber Co. in Cecil. “One of the things that everybody was really amazed at was how much bottled water just showed up,” he said. “We had a pickup slap full of bottled water that everybody just kept bringing and dropping off. You don’t know how much that was appreciated.”
Finally, he thanked all of the men and women who work tirelessly with the Cook County Fire Department. “From the bottom of my heart, I can’t thank our volunteers enough. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we’re at today.”
The ISO rating is updated every five years. The community now has a base line to work from to bring the rates down even further, Chief West said.
Over the past three years, Cook County has done much to improve fire protection and decrease the ISO rating. The individual volunteer fire departments have been combined into the Cook County Fire Department, with West serving as County Chief. Station chiefs and department heads are managing the individual departments.
Cook County has an all-volunteer fire department. Still, the volunteers have to receive the same training that paid firefighters do. The Cook County Fire Department has support personnel; qualified volunteer firefighters, who have taken a 100-hour course on their own time and have taken a test to become certified from the State of Georgia; and Firefighter 1 and 2 personnel, at the next levels of training and state certification.
Cook County has 46 dedicated volunteers, and 38, men and women, are certified at some level of firefighting.
Three years ago, the Cook County Board of Commissioners implemented the County Fire Department. The County purchased three used trucks (one went to Southeast Cook, one to Pine Valley, and one to the North Cook Station at Lenox). The Fire Department upgraded the chassis on several of their tankers (before the change, some had 1988 or 1989 model chassis). The Department has some newer command vehicles, pickup trucks that can respond in a brush truck capacity. The Department has qualified 12 firefighters who have came up through the ranks to be able to respond to structure fires. The Department has increased inventory, including spare hoses, nozzles, fire extinguishers, and bunker gear. “We have never had a controlled inventory like that before,” Chief West said.
The Cook County Fire Department recently entered into a partnership with the City of Adel and Adel Fire Department for a joint training facility. The land has been purchased, and the facility is being prepared for the training activities.
The upgrades have been funded through the County budget and grant opportunities. Walmart of Adel has donated funds for the purchase of equipment, and the Department has received grants from the Georgia Forestry Commission, the Fireworks Tax Grant, and Firehouse Subs Foundation (for extrication equipment). The Department will be pursuing other grants.
After the Fire Department had many improvements in place, ISO officials conducted an evaluation of the Fire Department from December 2021 to the first of March. ISO considered such matters as 911 support, Fire Department vehicles and equipment, deployment analysis (proximity of residences to a fire station), number of fire personnel, training, water supply (26 dry hydrants in the county), and community outreach (public education).
ISO ratings range from 1 (excellent) and 10 (worst, basically no fire department service in area). 1, 2, and 3 ratings affect businesses and industries, while 4 to 10 impact the community and residential structures.
EDITOR’S NOTE – The Adel News will provide more information about the ISO rating improvement in future issues. Please see the complete video announcement by Chief West on the Adel News Tribune’s Facebook page.