Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

After months of hard work and preparation, two Macon County fire departments completed inspections last week that could lower insurance rates for homeowners.

“Clarks Chapel and Cullasaja Gorge Fire Departments were participating in a N.C. Office of State Fire Marshal Inspection pertaining to their protection class (PC) rating,”  explained Macon County Emergency Management Director Warren Cabe.  “The evaluations consisted of a basic class 9 inspection and then proceeds in depth into their records of training and personnel, their previous response, and their water supply.”

The inspection by the Department of Insurance Office of State Fire Marshal is required on a regular basis as part of the North Carolina Response Rating System (NCRRS). Routine inspections look for proper staffing levels, sufficient equipment, proper maintenance of equipment, communications capabilities and availability of a water source.

For the Cullasaja Gorge Fire Department, the inspection is a milestone and will mark the first time in history the department’s rating has been so high. Clarks Chapel is currently a class 6 and Cullasaja is currently a class 8B.

“This is a milestone for our department and will be the first time in the department’s history we have received this classification,” said Cullasaja Fire Department Chief Paul Corbin. “This will be a tremendous boost for our community and will lower insurance rates in our district significantly.”

According to Corbin, the Cullasaja Gorge Fire Department has 31 volunteers on the rooster and as part of the requirement for their rating, had to have at least 20 members with 36 hours of training completed. A total of 28 members of the department had receive the training needed to improve the department’s classification. Cullasaja Gorge Fire Department is one of the county’s smaller department with 53 square miles of service district and no substation. They average 28 calls per month.

Corbin said that his department had to purchase new equipment to ensure they met the classification requirements. Months of pre-planning and preparation were also required for the inspection of both departments.

“A practical exam was conducted to verify the time it took each department to establish a water supply on a scene and their ability to maintain that supply, whether it be from a static source such as a pressurized hydrant, pumping directly from a designated water supply point (pond, creek, etc.) and hauling water with tankers from a point of supply to a point of distribution,” said Cabe. “The PC maintained or obtained by each department directly impacts insurance premiums homeowners and business owners pay for improved property in each district. The departments and our office will be notified of their results in 90-120 days and then any changes will take place several months after that notification after insurance companies have had time to be notified and update their records. The departments providing automatic aid to the two departments were also required to participate in the evaluation process.”

The NCRRS rating system ranges from 1 (highest) to 10 (not recognized as a certified fire department by the state). While lower ratings do not necessarily indicate poor service, a higher rating does suggest that a department is overall better equipped to respond to fires in its district. Higher ratings also significantly lower homeowners insurance rates in that fire district. The departments are currently waiting the results of their evaluation, which if approved by the state, will lower insurance rates in both districts.

“I think the inspection went tremendously well,” said Corbin. “I am so proud of the men and women who put in extra time and effort to make sure everything went smoothly. Bobby Henry and Ryan Hursey were tremendously helpful and I can’t thank them or Warren Cabe, Jimmy Teem, and Otto, Clarks Chapel and Franklin Fire Department for everything they did to help.”