The improved fire score by the ISO means homeowners will get a better rate on their fire insurance.

Members of the Apalachicola Volunteer Fire Department earned a salute from city commissioners Tuesday night but it wasn’t for putting out a fire.

It was for sharpening their readiness to fight them.

In a resolution championed by Commissioner Anita Grove and unanimously adopted by her colleagues, the commissioners thanked the firefighters for having improved the city’s fire rating at a recent national assessment, a sign of the department’s improved skills and a potential boon to property owners when it comes to insurance rates.

Fire Chief George Watkins, accompanied at the meeting by Lt. Rhett Butler and Firefighter Ginger Creamer, provided the background for the distinction in a news release prior to the meeting. He said the department had recently been rated by the Insurance Service Office (ISO), with what is known as a fire score or Public Protection Classification.

“The PPC is a score from 1 to 10 (1 being the best and 10 being the worst), that indicates how well-protected your community is by the fire department,” he said. “The better the score makes your insurance rates go down, some by 10 percent per score.

“After many years of training, building a station and buying necessary equipment to achieve an acceptable status by the ISO, the (department) has just recently received their best score to date, a 5!” Watkins said. “They have never received better than a score of a 6 and it is very hard to achieve a 5, especially with all the new rules and safety regulations requiring very expensive add-ons and maintenance of equipment.”

In his remarks at the meeting, Watkins noted that part of the requirements for the ISO fire score are to have three pumper trucks that will discharge 1,250 gallons per minute in order to cover commercial buildings, and to carry a large number of hoses, nozzles and up-to-date Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), such as air packs and suits, that must be replaced frequently.

“Pumps and hoses are to be tested once a year, and if they don’t pass, no credit or grade will be given by the ISO,” he said. “Training, certifications, hydrants and water supply also play a big part in the grade.”

The new score puts the department’s score at the median level among departments nationwide, and is in keeping with the most common rating departments receive, a significant improvement over the probationary 10 score the department had received in the past.

According to the ISO, half the score is based on staffing levels, training and proximity of the firehouse, 40 percent from the availability of water supply, including the prevalence of fire hydrants and how much water is available for putting out fires, and 10 percent from the quality of the area's emergency communications systems. An extra 5.5 percent comes from community outreach, including fire prevention and safety courses.

“In general, urban areas tend to have better PPC scores than rural areas, as urban fire departments are closer together and often receive better funding,” according to the ISO.

Watkins offered praise for the contribution to the improved rating made by the Oyster Cook-off volunteers and board, which for the past decade has grown an annual off-season fire department fundraiser in January that now brings in as much as $50,000 to help fund the department’s needs.

The well-attended cook-off event, slated for Jan. 17-18 ahead of the Dr. Martin Luther King Day holiday, was started in the wake of a fire that consumed a home in the historic district, a blaze exacerbated by problems with available working hydrants.

“We congratulate these hard-working volunteers, who also have full-time jobs and families to take care of,” said Watkins, noting that funds to support the department come from cook-off donations as well as support from both the city and county.

“We’d like to thank the sponsors, volunteers and citizens that support us through the Oyster Cook Off and without them these past 10 years, we would not be where we are today,” he said.

Watkins also cited Grove’s work on behalf of the department, noting that she pressed for the purchase of a new truck years ago, not long after he succeeded Bert Simmons as chief.

“That was the start. We had to get a new truck and fire station at the same time, which was double hard,” he said. “Now it’s an altogether different ballgame. There’s more pump tests, hose tests, changing tires, it’s become a money nightmare for the little fire departments.

“We really thank the public,” Watkins said.

Passage of the resolution was greeted by a standing ovation, followed by cook-off organizers passing out bookmarks that provide info on the upcoming cook-off.

For more information, to volunteer or to submit recipes, visit