The fire department in the small Coffee County, Tenn., town of Tullahoma recently improved its ISO classification enough to place it in the top 3 percent of departments in the state, a designation that means lower fire insurance premiums for residents and business owners.
"We have been doing a lot of work," Tullahoma Fire Chief Richard Shasteen said Thursday.
Tullahoma's new ISO classification is now a 2. The department previously had a 3 classification, a designation it held for the last four years, Shasteen said.
"We have had two classification improvements in the last four years," he said. "We improved to a 3 in 2012."
The "ISO" classification -- which refers to the Insurance Service Office's Public Protection Classification system used across the nation in risk assessment related to insurance premiums -- grades a community's fire protection on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being best.
Shasteen said the new rating comes from a combination of improvements ranging from increased training and better equipment maintenance to backup turnout gear, air tanks and portable radios for every member of the department.
A partnership among the fire department, the Tullahoma Utilities Authority and the Coffee County Consolidated Communications Center led to the communications upgrades and improved water distribution to the 1,300 hydrants in the town.
The department earned additional ISO credit for its free smoke alarm program and fire safety educational program for the local school system, he said.
"We've installed more than 2,500 smoke alarms in the city," the chief said.
Tullahoma Mayor Lane Curlee praised city staff who worked so hard.
"We have to commend our fire department for getting us here. Additionally, this rating helps Tullahoma recruit industry and commercial investment to locate and expand in our community," Curlee said in a statement on the new rating.
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For Tullahoma property owners, the new classification will collectively save about $144,000 on insurance premiums for one- and two-family dwellings, according to research completed by Municipal Technical Advisory Services fire management consultant Steve Cross. The figure does not include the commercial savings.
Doing the math, the department's $4.9 million budget amounts to about $133 per person in the city, a "great value," Shasteen said of the town's 18,655 people.
"The bottom line is the department was rated highly for its ability to respond to and suppress structural fires," City Administrator Jody Baltz said.
The 52-year-old chief, who started out as a volunteer in 1986, said he hopes to get the town to the top classification before he retires.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.
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