Fire Department and Home Owner Fire Insurance Ratings

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The North Carolina Department of Insurance regulates the insurance industry for the State of North Carolina.  The Insurance Commissioner also serves as the State Fire Marshal.   The Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM) is responsible for training fire and rescue personnel, administering the state building code and rating the fire suppression capabilities of fire departments across the state. 

Insurance premiums for both residential and commercial structures can be impacted by multiple variables, including installation of sprinkler systems, construction material, square footage, number of stories/floors, distance from a fire station, etc.  Insurance costs are also impacted by the ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating of the primary fire department covering a home or business. 

Rating classifications range from class 10 (the worst rating) to a rating of class 1 (the best).  A structure beyond 6 road miles from the closest fire station of their district gets a 10 rating and is considered unprotected. 

Over 1,000 of the 1,500 plus fire districts in North Carolina are rural.  According to OSFM, in 2009 a little over 400 districts had a class 9 rating, around 200 had a class 7, over 450 had a class 6 and just over 300 had a class 5.  All other rating classes were less than 100. 

Orange County is covered by 12 fire departments.  Efland, Eno, New Hope, Orange Grove, Cedar Grove, Caldwell, and White Cross fire departments cover rural districts.  Orange Rural (Hillsborough), Chapel Hill and Carrboro fire departments cover municipal and rural areas.  Mebane and North Chatham fire departments are located outside of Orange County, but cover areas within Orange County. 

All of these departments are rated by OSFM for fire suppression capabilities. 

Fire department ratings are based on three general areas; communications, water supply and fire department.


Communications is essentially 9-1-1 services.  Components include the population served, number of phone circuits, number of telecommunicators (dispatchers/operators), emergency power (generator), as well as additional criteria.  Communications accounts for 10% of a fire department’s ISO rating. 

Water Supply

Water supply is considered for 40% of the rating. 

Municipalities typically have fire hydrants on a city water system.  Evaluation would include source of supply, distribution (size of the underground water pipelines), frequency (distance between hydrants), flow rates, etc. 

Rural departments typically have to take water to the fire.   For a small fire, the first in truck may carry enough water to put out the fire.  For larger fires, a water shuttle or tanker relay may need to be established. 

The three closest fire departments are dispatched to a structure fire.   

Rural water supply ratings for a tanker relay take into consideration, source (hydrants beyond hose length, pond, rivers, etc.), capacity of the source (pond size) and distance from the source. 

Capacity of the truck is considered in the calculations for the rating.  Most rural fire engines carry 1,000 gallons of water and can pump over 1,000 gallons a minute. 

There are two basic classifications for rural trucks, “engines” for fighting fire and “tankers” for hauling water.  Portable storage units or drop tanks are typically used in a water shuttle operation.  

Departments are actually time tested for water shuttle during the evaluation by the Office of the State Fire Marshal. 

Fire Department

The largest item for rating is categorized as the “fire department”, accounting for 50% of the score. 

Elements include;

personnel (15%),

engines (10%),

training (9%),

pumping capacity (5%),

ladder and/or service truck (5%),

distribution/location of stations (4%)

and additional items. 

Personnel includes volunteer and/or paid staff.  OSFM looks for a minimum of 20 members over the age of 18 for a single station and 28 members for a two-station department.  Some departments have a junior program for high school age volunteers, but juniors do not count for ratings. 

Of the elements listed above, the engine portion is rated on equipment carried on the engine based on a requirement list provided by OSFM, the list contains over 40 items.  The list includes breathing equipment (air packs), radios, handheld lights, cutting tools and foam, as well as hose, nozzles and ladders, just to name some of the items. 

Insurance Companies

In the past insurance premiums may have been determined by a general town address or zip code.  Over the past few years, mapping and addressing systems, including Google Maps, have become more sophisticated and more common as a business tool for insurance companies.  Now it is much easier for an insurance company to determine if a structure is beyond 6-miles from the district fire station.   


Local fire departments continue to look at ways to improve services.  New stations are planned or under construction.  Some departments have recently improved ratings.  Some departments are attending training, collecting documentation and preparing for an OSFM evaluation with hopes of classification improvements.   The Orange County Board of Commissioners has also created a committee to provide recommendations for improvements in emergency services. 

For additional information on the rating system contact the North Carolina Office of the State Fire Marshal. 

For information on fire department ratings within Orange County contact the Orange Emergency Services Department – Fire Marshal Division at 919-245-6100.