The Wilkesboro Fire Department’s fire suppression rating has been upgraded from Public Protection Classification (PPC) 5 to PPC 3, which means it will cost less to insure structures in town after the new state rating goes into effect May 1.

The improved rating resulted from an inspection of the Wilkesboro Fire Department by the N.C. Insurance Services Office. The results were released on Jan. 18. The fire department had held a PPC 5 since 2006.

Wilkesboro Fire Chief Jason R. Smithey said the upgrade puts the town in the top 6 percent of the state fire departments. In the northwest region, Wilkesboro joins Boone, Mount Airy, Yadkinville and East Bend as the other PPC 3 departments. Boone and Yadkinville are split PPC 3/5, which means that certain areas of the towns are farther away from fire hydrants and are thus rated higher.

The North Wilkesboro Fire Department is currently rated at PPC 4 but hasn’t had an insurance classification inspection recently.

North Wilkesboro Fire Chief Jimmy Martin said on Monday, “I do look for the (state fire office) to schedule us for one here in the near future.”

The town of Elkin is a PPC 5, the lowest rating in the region.

The PPC ratings range from one (best) to 10 (not recognized as a certified fire department by the state). A lower number means a fire department is overall better equipped to respond to fires in its district and also leads to significantly lower insurance rates in that fire district.

Smithey said the town’s insurance provider, Stroud Miller, told him Monday afternoon the town should see $1,000 in annual savings, due to the improved rating, on town property. Residential properties may or may not be affected, depending on the insurance carrier. Commercial properties should see some type of savings, again depending on the carrier, Smithey said.

“I’d like to congratulate Chief Smithey for the department’s performance and for the hard work of all the department members,” said Mike Causey, state insurance commissioner and fire marshal. “The citizens in the town should rest easy knowing they have a fine group of firefighters protecting them and their property in case of an emergency.”

Smithey said the area that made the biggest impact on the improved rating was the department having more on-duty staffing. The town had no on-duty staffing in 2006, but the town council approved hiring for 24-hour operations in 2009.

“Currently, we maintain a captain and three firefighters on duty 24 hours a day through a mix of full-time and part-time staffing,” said Smithey, who was hired as fire chief in 2011. “The staffing, paid-on-call personnel, and an improved training program made the biggest difference and allowed us to drop from a Class 5 rating to a Class 3.”

Smithey added, “I personally want to thank my staff for the hard work they’ve done and want to thank the town officials for supporting us throughout this process.”

Wilkesboro’s new rating was determined by a review of the fire department (50 percent of the total score), its water supply (40 percent) and emergency communications (10 percent). The final score is also reduced based on the relative difference between the fire department and water supply scores.

Factors considered in the review of the fire department include engine companies, reserve pumpers, pump capacity, ladder/service companies, reserve ladder/service trucks, deployment analysis, company personnel, training, operational considerations and community risk reduction.

Water supply factors considered include credit for supply system, hydrant size, type and installation, and inspection and flow testing of hydrants.

Emergency communications factors considered include emergency reporting, telecommunications and dispatch circuits.

The Wilkesboro Fire Department’s total score was 71.52 out of a possible 105.5 points. PPC 3 ratings are given to departments that score between 70 and 79.99 points.

The department scored 31.85 out of a possible 50 points for its fire department, 32.03 out of 40 for its water supply and 6.85 out of 10 for emergency communications.

Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland said during a town council work session Monday morning that the town was very excited to receive news of the PPC upgrade. “It’s a great achievement on their part, a culmination of many years back to when we decided to hire a full-time fire chief.”

Noland said a $1.5 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant was used mainly by the department to grow its volunteer and part-time staff. He said current staff fluctuates between 40 and 45.

“A lot has changed in that department over the last seven or eight years, and it all started with this council, so I commend the council for taking us down this road,” he added.

Smithey and other members of the department were recognized for the reclassification Monday night at the monthly town council meeting at Town Hall.

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