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Mutual Aid Training

posted Aug 15, 2012, 9:48 PM by Jeremiah Smith
By DWIGHT OTWELL
dotwell@cherokeescout.com
Tuesday, July 31, 2012 8:05 PM CDT
Photos by SCOTT WALLACE/swallace@cherokeescout.com 
Murphy assistant fire chief Phil Bowman radios to inspectors on the other end the flow readings from the gauge attached to the fire hydrant he just opened Thursday at one end of the Valley Village Shopping Center in Murphy. Sufficient flow is crucial to lowering fire insurance rates.
Davie Summey, rating inspector for the N.C. Department of Insurance, W.C. King, Cherokee County fire marshal, and Joe Mariano, assistant fire chief with the Ranger Volunteer Fire Department (from left), check residual water pressure in a hydrant at the opposite end of the shopping center.
    Murphy – The Murphy Volunteer Fire Department spent three years preparing to show its stuff during a four-day period before a state insurance office rating inspector with the goal of saving residents on insurance premiums.

    Davie Summey with the N.C. Department of Insurance Office of State Fire Marshal completed his intensive inspection Thursday.

    “There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into this,” Murphy Fire Chief Al Lovingood said. “We do two separate ratings – one for Murphy City limits, and one for Murphy Rural.”
     The Murphy Volunteer Fire Department actually is two departments in one. The Murphy Fire district is whatever is in the city limits. Murphy Rural is 99.65 road miles outside of the city limits: U.S. 64 West to Lakeside Plaza; Hanging Dog Road to about a half mile past Bates Creek Road; U.S. 64 East to the Bill Wells Bridge; U.S. 64 East Alternate, which includes the Wilscot Road centerline and everything to the left; and U.S. 19 to Old Peachtree Road. The Murphy Rural District also covers Cherokee Hills, including the Poorhouse Mountain development.

    Of the 99.65 Murphy Rural road miles, only 38.6 or about 39 percent are within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant, which means 61 percent of the area pays higher insurance rates with a 9 rating instead of a 6 rating, Lovingood said.

    “We want to provide insurance savings to 100 percent of the people,” he said.

Insurance savings

    The state insurance department rates fire districts from 1-10, with 1 being the best and 10 meaning no fire protection. The lower the rating, the less people pay for fire insurance. Paid fire departments in large, metropolitan areas usually have the best fire insurance ratings.

    Lovingood pointed out that 1997 was the last time Murphy underwent a fire insurance rating process. The town’s insurance rating then dropped from a Class 8, which it had been since the early 1900s, to a Class 7.

    After a rating process, the fire department receives a statement of improvements that need to be made. The improvements were made in 1998, and in 1999 the town’s rating dropped to a Class 6, which meant a large insurance savings for everyone with a home or business in Murphy.

    An example of what a lower fire insurance rating can mean for insurance premiums is a $221,000 home in Murphy with a Class 6 rating would pay $324 less per year in insurance than the same home in the part of Murphy Rural District that doesn’t get the Class 6 rating.

    “Our goal [in the rating process] is to save them on fire insurance and to provide better fire protection,” Lovingood said.

    Hiwassee Dam residents living within five miles of one of the two fire stations have seen a decrease in their fire insurance rates of from 18 to 24 percent as the result of an upgrade of the fire department’s rating by the state. The fire insurance rating was reduced from nine to seven as a results of inspections done last year.

    Residents living within 1,000 feet of a pressurized fire hydrant in the Murphy Rural District have a lower fire insurance rating. For example, Tar Heel subdivision residents pay insurance based on a Class 9 rating instead of a Class 6 because there are no fire hydrants. Everyone pays a fire tax in the Murphy Rural Fire District, Lovingood said.

    “We want to go to a single class grade, meaning everyone will get the same fire rating [in Murphy Rural District],” he said. “So we had to go back to the drawing board. The question is how can we supply adequate water to places like Tar Heel?”

Residents help

    The Murphy Volunteer Fire Department requested help from eight neighboring volunteer fire departments that agreed to provide automatic aid in case of fires. Historically, Murphy has received aid for residential fires from the Peachtree department and for a commercial fire from Peachtree and Ranger.

    The eight volunteer fire departments that will provide aid for Murphy are Bellview, Brasstown, Grape Creek, Hanging Dog, Martins Creek, Peachtree, Ranger and

Valleytown.

    To get a lower rating for Murphy Rural, they must sustain 250 gallons of water per minute of flow anywhere in the Murphy Rural District.

    “On some of these subdivision roads, this can be difficult,” Lovingood said. “Mountainous roads present more problems. In Murphy Rural, six dry hydrants were installed on personal property. A dry hydrant is a six-inch PVC connection into a static water source or a flow stream.

    “Local property owners allowed us to install [dry hydrants], which resulted in a water point within a mile and a half of every structure,” Lovingood said.

    Four were installed in Tar Heel, one on Wilscot Road and one off Bates Creek Road. Assistant fire chief W.C. King said two dry hydrants use creeks and four ponds. King also is Cherokee County’s fire marshal.

Inspecting items

    Besides water sources, the rating process grades on communication such as 911 operation, emergency generators and even how the fire department is listed in the telephone book; and the fire department itself, which includes equipment, training and instance response.

    “We have 249 fire hydrants that have to be tested twice a year,” Lovingood said.

    “We have four fire trucks that must be tested annually, and all of our 14,175 feet of fire hoses must be tested

annually.”

    Lovingood said that as far as he knows, the fire department is the only governmental agency that saves people far more than they pay in taxes.

    “While it will be 60-90 days until we receive the results, we are hopeful to once again receive an improved fire department rating that will result in lower insurance premiums,” Lovingood said. “We don’t have a goal to get to a certain class. Our goal is to do everything we can to get the best rating we can.”

    Murphy has two fire stations, the main station on Hiawassee Street and a substation at Natural Springs.

    In 1999, when they were last graded, the department needed three major resources, which it has acquired. One was the substation, which was built in 2000. Another was an aerial device, and a ladder truck was acquired in 2005. The third was a third engine, which was donated by the N.C. Forest Service. Murphy simply had to equip it.

    “I could not be more proud of what our volunteers did along with the automatic aid departments. They put forth a lot of effort and time,” Lovingood said.

Other agencies provide aid

    People have commented on the camaraderie displayed by the automatic aid departments working to help Murphy, he said. For example, Ranger Volunteer Fire Department had a competition among themselves to see how fast they could get to a hydrant and hook up and be ready from 200 feet away. They were able to do this drill in 45 seconds.

    The Martins Creek Volunteer Fire Department had a friendly competition to see how fast they could hook up to a dry hydrant. They turned it into a training exercise and did it in one minute, 21 seconds.

    “They performed flawlessly when it came to their specific assignments,” Lovingood said. “I hope they will also try to do this rating. They helped us and now it is our turn to help them. We did as good as we can possibly do.

    “We are cautiously optimistic that we are going to improve.”

    “To get into this lower rating, it is a tremendous undertaking,” King said.

    “We are excited about the opportunity to save people some money,” Lovingood added.
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