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ISO grade puts Norwalk in 'top 10% of fire departments in the country'

Cary Ashby • Jun 10, 2018 at 10:00 AM

The Norwalk Fire Department has joined an elite status, thanks to its latest audit.

The Insurance Service Organization, better known as ISO, graded the agency at Class 3. 

“This puts us in the top 10 percent of fire departments in the country,” Chief John Soisson said. “For me, it’s not prestige; it’s a measuring stick of the quality of your department.

“Basically (the way) I think of it is they rate the fire department and they are rating you only on fire suppression,” he explained. “It has nothing to do with EMS; it has nothing to do with rescue; it has to do with your ability to put out fires quickly and to prevent damage.”

During the last audit in 2008, the department received a grade of Class 4. 

ISO calls its audit a public protection classification (PPC) survey. 

“PPC plays an important role in the underwriting process at insurance companies. In fact, most U.S. insurers — including the largest ones — use PPC information as part of their decision-making when deciding what business to write, coverages to offer or prices to change for personal or commercial property insurance,” said Alex Shubert, ISO manager of the national processing center, in a letter to Soisson and Norwalk Mayor Rob Duncan. “ISO is the leading supplier of data and analytics for the property/casualty insurance industry.”

ISO grades fire departments from 0 to 100 — information used by insurance companies to determine rates. Soisson said Norwalk received an overall grade of 76.54 this time, “which puts us well into Class 3.” 

“Our strengths (in 2008) were our water system and our equipment,” he added, noting that training and documentation have been two priorities in his time as chief.

ISO grades fire departments on three areas: Communications and dispatch (10 percent), water system (40 percent, rating the needed fire-flow) and the third area is equipment, staff and training (50 percent).

In 2008, the agency received a grade of 61.83. Soisson said a Class 4 is a good score, but he wanted to see much more improvement and the report identified where the fire department could do just that.

“We needed to train better; we needed to document better,” the chief added. “We increased there by 72 percent.

“What changed our score significantly was our training, inspections, documentation, fire-prevention programs and deployment analysis. In training alone, we had a 72-percent increase in that line score,” Soisson said.

The chief credits the hard work of his firefighters with making the large improvement in the audit grade possible. 

“We’ve been working hard on the training aspect. … Our young guys love to train,” Soisson said. “This is my guys going out and training every day; this is our guys putting the work in to make sure our department is better every day.”

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