Cross Plains Ins. Rates Increase With Lack Of State-Certified Firefighters

Cross Plains Ins. Rates Increase With Lack Of State-Certified Firefighters

Cross Plains Ins. Rates Increase With Lack Of State-Certified Firefighters

CROSS PLAINS, TENNESSEE: (Smokey Barn News) – Residents in the Cross Plains area could be seeing an increase in insurance premiums of up to 50% in some cases following an ISO rating change. ISO stands for Insurance Services Office. They provide fire ratings for fire departments, which are used by insurance companies to assess the level of fire protection in a community.

Recently the Cross Plains Fire Department went from an ISO Class 6 to an ISO Class 10. An ISO rating of 1 is the highest, 10 is the lowest. The primary cause of the ratings change? According to Cross Plains Fire Chief Tommy Jackson, finding volunteer or even paid Firefighters has been an issue across the county for decades so it’s no surprise that Cross Plains has staffing issues. Cross Plains Fire Chief Tommy Jackson says, “People don’t want to work, what would make you think they would come and volunteer work for nothing when they won’t work for money.”

Chief Jackson has somewhat of a unique situation in that his fire station is located in a very rural area so his local candidate pool is very small. Though his department is in a rural area, his team covers a large section of the county including Interstate 65. His department goes 24/7 with calls on the interstate alone. Needless to say, Tommy’s stream is run ragged. Those mechanics make it difficult to find, recruit,  and retain firefighters. Jackson says it takes a lot of training to certify a Firefighter and the minute they become certified they become desirable to other fire departments that can offer more than he can.

It’s a problem that every volunteer fire department in the county understands but Chief Jackson will need to solve the problem if he’s going to bring that ISO rating back to a 6. Smokey Barn News has encountered Tommy and his team countless times in the field on everything from car crashes to fires. His team works hard but it is not easy to miss that manpower is an issue.

It’s important to acknowledge that automatic aid agreements with other fire departments guarantee there is enough manpower to handle any type of a fire. It’s very seldom (if ever) that a single fire department or fire station would be paged out to a fire in the rural areas. Why you ask,  limited manpower.  Every fire department in the county has manpower issues. If a fire chief in Robertson County said their department was fully staffed the other chiefs would look around for the hidden cameras.

Smokey Barn News spoke with Jackson in length about the ISO rating and how it will affect residents in Cross Plains. Jackson highlights the struggle to recruit and train volunteers due to extensive certification requirements, resulting in a reliance on a small team of full-time firefighters.

With only four full-time firefighters and a handful of volunteers, the department falls short of ISO’s staffing standards, Jackson said. Jackson expressed frustration over limited funding, which hinders efforts to hire additional personnel. Despite efforts to secure federal grants, Tommy’s department faces an uphill battle in meeting ISO requirements.

Jackson emphasizes the need for more funding to bolster staffing levels and improve equipment, stressing the importance of adequate resources in ensuring public safety. He acknowledges the strain on taxpayers but underscores the critical role of fire services in the community.

The ISO rating drop for the Cross Plains Fire Department’s coverage area could lead to some insurers seeing an increase in annual insurance fees by as much as 50%. Compounding things, Tommy says, are weather-related insurance increases and recent tax hikes. Jackson recommends homeowners explore alternative insurance options not dependent on the ISO rating but two local insurance agents we spoke to were not aware of any.

While it’s less common, some insurance companies may offer home insurance policies without relying on ISO ratings. These companies may use their own proprietary risk assessment models or other factors to determine premiums and coverage. However, the availability of such insurance options can vary depending on your location and other factors. It’s best to directly inquire with insurance providers in your area to see if they offer alternatives to ISO-rated policies.

Smokey Barn News spoke with former White House Community Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief Gerald Wakefield about the situation. Wakefield also has an extensive background in the insurance industry, allowing him to speak intelligently from both the insurance company and fire department standpoints.

“Cross Plains, Orlinda, North Robertson, and White House Community Fire Departments have automatic aide agreements, Wakefield said. “That means at least 3 Departments are paged and will respond to any structure fires. Citizens living within 5 miles of any of these automatic aid departments should not see the major insurance increases that will affect citizens that are served by Cross Plains.

“State-wide insurance rates are climbing due to storms and increased repair cost to homes. I started in the Insurance business in 1983, and retired in 2021. I’ve served in the fire service since 1998. Based on that experience, I recommend that when you get your bill for your homeowner’s insurance, talk with your agent.

“Talk with the nearest fire Department other than Cross Plains and see if you’re eligible for protection from them. Rates will be going up drastically. Some areas will double, and others could see 10 to 15 percent increases. This is a reflection on the staffing issues, training issues, recruitment and retention that is a nationwide problem. Cross Plains is having an extremely hard time solving it. I wish the best for the City of Cross Plains and want all Citizens to know White House Community will be there to support them in any way we can.”

According to Tommy, the ISO rating system values one paid firefighter at roughly the equivalent of four or five volunteer firefighters. Thus, if he were to deploy one paid firefighter to meet the requirement of having five firefighters present at the scene, he would actually need around 20 firefighters to satisfy ISO standards. This discrepancy underscores the challenge fire departments face in meeting these criteria, particularly given the scarcity of volunteers.

Tommy says he responds (on average) with two people on structure fires due to the lack of volunteers. Annually, two-thirds of Tommy’s calls (over 800) are out in the county and his team responds to 400 calls in the city. If you do find a volunteer, Tommy’s says, they’ll need 16 hours of training before they can get on a truck. They have to have a 64 within 2 years and then you have to send them for a 24-hour at the fire academy. To cut people out of a vehicle they have to have extraction training which is right at 45 hours. Then you have hazardous materials, that’s right at 16 hours a year. If they do medical they’ll need 80 hours of EMR training to start with. Tommy thinks all that training is scaring people away.

Including Tommy, the Cross Plains Fire Department consists of 5 firefighters and 9 or 10 volunteers. To meet ISO standards Tommy says he’ll need 16 firefighters. Tommy receives $230,000.00 annually from the County, (Robertson) and he gets $60,000.00 from the city. $200,000.00 of that goes to pay 4 firefighters. The rest goes to insurance, utility bills and other operational expenses.

Robertson County increased funding for all fire Departments for the 2024 budget year. Fulltime people have been added to Cross Plains and a new Fire truck has been ordered with city money, Tommy said. Wakefield says the White House Community Volunteer Fire Department has ordered a new engine and a tanker along with 1 full-time firefighter and several paid on-call members. North Robertson Fire and Rescue has ordered one new engine, 2 new tankers, and put a new brush truck into service. Tommy knows he has work to do and his plan is to get re-rated as soon as possible. In the meantime, Tommy wanted to assure residents in the Cross Plains area that (via automatic aid) they do have adequate fire protection.

To see the Cross Plains Fire Department and automatic aid in action, we have added a report for you below.

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