Accreditation Process Spurs Innovation at Spartanburg Fire Department

For a fire department to receive accreditation and Class 1 ISO rating is very rare.

ARTICLE | Feb 13, 2017

Spartanburg Fire Department receives rare International Accreditation and ISO Class 1

The Spartanburg Fire Department is responsible for providing service to Spartanburg’s 37,000 residents, as well as thousands of business owners and their employees with fire suppression, prevention, and technical rescue services. Protecting an area of around 20 square miles from five fire stations, and providing support to other departments outside the city when needed, Spartanburg’s Fire Department is the only one in Spartanburg County staffed with 100 percent career firefighters. 

After their accreditation manager left the Spartanburg Fire Department, the chief and the fire marshal were left with the daunting task of being ready for an imminent peer review team site visit. (A peer assessment review occurs every five to seven years or more frequently if findings reach a certain level). They were granted an extension under the circumstances by the commission. The fire department issued an RFP for Technical Consulting Services and after several interviews, chose Robert McNally of Beacon GIS, LLC to assist the department with its accreditation process.

Meanwhile, the peer review team was contemplating cancelling the trip because of the lack of data and disorganization of materials. This would have certainly resulted in the loss of accreditation status. Impressed by the work that the Fire Department and Beacon GIS was able to achieve in very short order, the team decided to come to Spartanburg for a peer review visit.

Spartanburg Fire TruckAlthough much progress had been made, ultimately the accreditation of the Spartanburg Fire Department was deferred by CPSE (Center for Public Safety Excellence) in order to rectify some insufficiencies as recommended by the peer review team. Over the next year, the fire department staff and Beacon GIS, LLC worked to meet the rigors of accreditation.  In 2016 at the Public Safety Excellence Conference, the CPSE accreditation commission approved the Spartanburg Fire Department as an accredited agency for another five-year term. Beacon GIS, LLC continues to assist the department with improvements to its GIS analytics.

Spartanburg Water and 911 communications are also involved in the rating process.

The Department’s motto, “Preservation through Prevention” is an expression of its commitment to building and maintaining a safe, prosperous, and vibrant city through effective fire prevention and emergency preparedness programs. Because of this excellent service rating, city residents enjoy a savings of up to 50 percent on their homeowners’ insurance premiums over outlying areas in Spartanburg County. Insurance companies use a fire department’s rating to help determine insurance premiums. “This is something we’ve been working for and we’re really proud of,” said Fire Chief Marion Blackwell. “We’ve been busy. It’s been a team effort. All our firefighters have been involved with it.” 

Mr. McNally states, “An additional benefit is refining the risk to the community not based simply upon commercial or residential but upon the various zoning types defined by the city. This will change the number of fire apparatus and firefighters so that the "cavalry" does not respond to a risk that does not require such a response initially.  This saves fuel, wear and tear, and keeps them ready in case another emergency is reported. Ultimately, each structure will be rated for risk on parameters such as age, height, construction, use, occupancy, etc. to provide specific response protocols.”

In December 2016, city officials announced the department had improved its Public Protection Classification from Class 2 to Class 1 by the Insurance Services Office (ISO). ISO assesses municipal fire protection in communities across the country and provides ratings from 1 through 10, 1 being the highest, which are used by insurers to calculate rates. The better the rating, the lower the insurance premium. Spartanburg Fire Chief Marion Blackwell said only 205 departments out of the 47,696 that ISO provides ratings for have a Class 1 rating.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime achievement,” Blackwell said. “We have been working on this for several years. Everyone here has contributed to making this possible. There is a sense of pride that comes with it. You’re recognized by an independent agency as well as your peers as being the best of the best.”

Fire Chief Blackwell also indicated that the ISO rating evaluation is comprehensive in that it analyzes a variety of functions and operations, ranging from its emergency communications system to water supply, training and equipment, as well as fire education, prevention and investigation.

 “We pride ourselves at the city on providing the very best public services that you can find anywhere,” said Will Rothschild, spokesman for the city. “We have long been proud of the job that the fire department provides. We hope this is the kind of validation that resonates with city residents. Even if the fire department is never called to your house or business, you’re going to benefit because it has direct bearing on what you pay for your property insurance.” 

Chief Blackwell is working toward measuring the outcomes of this new technology developed by Beacon GIS, LLC by capturing data to include, casualty rate, loss of property, response time, and insurance premiums rates.

Want to know more? Contact:

Marion F. Blackwell, Jr., MS, EFO, CFO, FIFireE
Fire Chief
City of Spartanburg Fire Department

Robert McNally
Founder and Principal
Beacon GIS LLC
Charlotte, NC

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