Savannah City Council to fund fire department study

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Most cities are always trying to find ways to upgrade their first responder ratings, but the city of Savannah is now looking at whether downgrading its fire department rating might increase revenue.

If a fire department goes down in what's called an ISO rating, it can impact the cost of homeowners insurance. Even though the city is just looking at an evaluation, nothing has been proposed.

Thursday, city council agreed to a contract that would assess the Savannah Fire Department. The $36,000 evaluation would look at a lot of things including downgrading their perfect response rating. The city says this came from talks of the fire fee.

"I think the questions we have come up as we've rolled out the fire see from our community," said Savannah Public Information Officer, Michelle Gavin. "Are we getting the most bang for our buck? The city manager believes that we are, but we want to have an assessment in place that shows that efficiency."

The fire department rating is called ISO 1. It stands for Insurance Service Office, which is how companies determine how much your home insurance will cost based on how good or bad your first responders are. Right now, the city of Savannah holds a perfect score of 1, but if they downgrade to 2 or 3, they could save millions in their budget, and the impact could be very little.

"If you had a kitchen fire and you're in a level one or protection class one, it would be $3-5,000 worth of damage. If you're a protection class 10 or 9, you would need a new house," said Savannah Insurance Agent, Matthew Hall.

"The best result would be they do the study and we are doing everything very efficient and very effective. This would give us a chance to look at what we're doing now and what we need to be doing in the future."

"We do think that it is prudent to show the taxpayers that we are being as efficient as possible for all of our services. In light of the fire fee, yes we want to show the public that we are doing the most with our firefighters and we don't have any redundancies that we have the equipment, we need the staffing, we need to make fire protection a priority in this city."

While the city saves money with this scenario, local insurance agent Matthew Hall says the Savannah homeowner could pay more each month, but not much.

"Your impact as a consumer is two to five percent on your homeowners from a one to a two and maybe three to seven or eight percent going from a one to a three," Hall said.

If it's saving the city money, what about you, the homeowner? Local insurance agents gave us an estimate. If this comes to fruition, it could add on $10-12 a month to your insurance bill - on top of a fire fee.

The study is being done by the University of Georgia. We're told it could take six months before we see the results.

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