Unicoi VFD improves town's ISO classification, sets a new goal

Sue Guinn Legg • Sep 22, 2018 at 9:37 PM

UNICOI — The International Organization for Standardization has awarded the Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department a two-point upgrade of its fire-protection classification.

UVFD Training Officer Lt. Dustin Ledford delivered the good news at the September meeting to Unicoi’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

Effective Dec. 1, Ledford said, the ISO classification for homes and businesses within five road miles of the fire department at 3907 Unicoi Drive will drop from 6 to 4 and the cost of fire insurance coverage for the structures in that area will fall accordingly.

The downside, he said, is the area outside five road miles of the department continues to carry the “unprotected” ISO rating of 10 and bear the high cost of insurance that goes with that.

Six years and a lot of hard work in the making, Ledford said, the new ISO rating exceeded the goal the department set for itself in 2012. But “it’s a split, 4/10 classification,” he said. “So what we are going to do is start all over.”

The department’s new goal and No. 1 priority going forward, according to Ledford, is to attain a protected ISO classification for the residents and approximately 153 structures on the north end of Unicoi.

“It’s kind of unfair. They’re in our area and we protect them. But their ISO classification is unprotected,” he said.

Two options to remedy the situation include establishing a fire department substation on the north end of Unicoi, or securing an automatic aid agreement for first alarm coverage with either of two neighboring volunteer departments roughly the same distance from that area.

Ledford said the first option is the most expensive and involves the purchase of property, monthly utilities, and increases in staffing, gear and equipment.

“That one has some expense,” he said. “But really the only thing holding us back is the property.”

As for the difficulty of recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters, Ledford said there is a grant available through the Department of Homeland Security that includes stipend payments that has proved effective in increasing staffing at other volunteer departments in the region.

The first alarm aid agreement with a neighboring department also appears to be doable, and Ledford said the department is reaching out to explore that option further.

At the same time, he said, work to improve the department’s new class 4 ISO rating is already underway in “basically everything we do,” including training, community education, staffing, equipment and facility upgrades and recruiting and retention.

Established in 1968, the UVFD will mark its 50th anniversary next month and is inviting the community to a celebration of the milestone set for Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Mountain Harvest Kitchen at 105 Unicoi Village Place.

The plans include free food and a lineup of live musical entertainment. The Red Cross will be there registering residents for free smoke alarms and scheduling appointments for firefighters to install them.

And all the UVFD firefighters will be there volunteering in a variety of capacities, including free instruction in fire safety and prevention and demonstrations of extrication-rescue techniques on a couple of vehicles they plan to saw up.

Ledford encouraged everyone to attend, “see what we do, learn a little about fire safety and prevention, have some food and have some fun too.”

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.