Originally created 08/02/97

Richmond fire officials ask for evaluation extension



The Richmond County fire department is up for evaluation, but officials have asked the national organization who does the ratings to hold off.

An assessment of fire protection services by the Insurance Services Office is due this year. The last assessment for the Augusta-Richmond County area was done about 10 years ago, said June Bruce, manager of corporate communications for the group.

The ISO, an insurance industry funded service, rates fire service based on water supply and pressure, fire department staffing, training and equipment and fire alarm dispatching.

"Department officials have to get training records and other documentation up to par," said Richmond County Fire Chief Ronnie Few. "We are also waiting to make some personnel changes and on the completion of a report that will determine whether we need to move around some fire stations," he said last week.

Chief Few said he made the request to the ISO soon after assuming his post.

"We asked for an opportunity to get prepared for the evaluation. They (the ISO) understand that I'm a new fire chief and the understood the fact that we've recently consolidated and are trying to work some things out. And they only ask that I keep them updated on how we're coming along and that's what I'm doing.

"We also had to upgrade our communications system which cost a little over $300,000. This was approved for before I got here. The most important issue facing the department is upgrading the water system," Chief Few said.

That would include replacing small water lines with larger ones in certain areas, he said. He did not know how much it would cost to upgrade the system and referred details about the upcoming project to officials at the water and sewer department.

"We're looking over the whole system and determining how to provide better fire protection service," said Max Hicks, director of the Augusta Water and Sewer Department. "Right now we're looking at areas that we need to upgrade to a loop system.

"Where it's feasible, we'll convert. It's always better to have a line that loops from one street to another rather than a line that just dead ends at a street - we have a few of those. The loop system provides a more constant water flow into a fire hydrant," said Mr. Hicks. "It has to do with dependability because you have water flowing into the hydrant from two directions."

The ISO rates communities on a 10-point scale, with Class 10 being no fire protection and Class 1 being optimum protection, said Ms. Bruce. They want fire departments to get the best grade possible, that's why the organization is allowing the Richmond County Fire Department an opportunity to improve it's grade, she said.

In the previous evaluation, the former city of Augusta received a Class 2 while the former Richmond County received a Class 5/9. The county received that rating due to the proximity of some of it's households to fire hydrants, Ms. Bruce said.

ISO grades determine homeowners' insurance rates.