PEBBLE - Hard work is bringing a huge reward not just to a local group of first responders, but also numerous residents of Winston County.
The Pebble Volunteer Fire Department has learned that its Insurance Service Office, or ISO, rating is dropping from a 9/10 to a 7/10, effective April 1. This is the lowest the rating has ever been, to any current Pebble firefighter’s knowledge, in the 47-year history of the department and a huge accomplishment for the all-volunteer-member department.
“It means that the accomplishments we have made are greater than they have ever been,” Pebble Assistant Chief Greg Cantrell said.
“It makes it easier for the community to support us because this will directly affect them with their insurance rates,” Pebble Fire Chief Kirk League said.
For those who live or have businesses within five road miles of the Pebble Volunteer Fire Department, which is located at 488 County Road 3471 just off of Highway 243 and County Road 93 in the Pebble community, the lower ISO rating could mean lower insurance rates.
“Everyone needs to inform their insurance companies after April 1, that our ISO has gone down,” Cantrell said.
Outside of the five-road-mile radius of Pebble VFD, the rate will remain a 10/10, which is standard for any fire department.
“We have no control over that situation,” Cantrell said.
ISO ratings are determined by a number of factors, including the overall health of fire departments, a community’s water supply, the quality of emergency communications systems and any extra practices a community develops, such as fire safety education and fire prevention techniques that are utilized to help reduce fire risk within a community. ISO strictly rates a fire department’s ability to effectively respond and handle structure fires. It does not pertain to fire departments’ work and performance on medical calls, wrecks, grass/woods fires, search and rescue operations, storm recovery and the many other situations firefighters face in their work.
The amount of work Pebble firefighters have put in to make their ISO rate lower has been tremendous and a group effort. Long-time member Steve Smith has worked tirelessly to make this happen, according to his fellow firefighters, who give Smith most of the credit for this accomplishment.
“Steve did almost all the legwork when it came to communicating with ISO, figuring out what the department needed to do to get the rating reduced,” League said. “Steve has carried this department through some rough times.”
Smith noted that he stayed in continuous contact with the ISO representative throughout the long process, finding out what was needed and making sure the representative got the paperwork and other data required.
“We met with him to give him our training records, worked out our water supply with him to show him how much water we have. We gave him the records on our call volume. There was quite a bit of things. We worked on it two and half months to get him what he needed,” Smith said.
League said that an increased emphasis on training was a major step in lowering the department’s ISO rating.
“From hose training, to trucks to sweeps to find someone if they are down in a fire,” League said, listing just some of the types of training the firefighters have performed.
All the firefighters said that the excellent communications provided to them by the dispatchers and staff at both Winston County 9-1-1 and Haleyville Dispatch also played a role in lowering the department’s ISO, as did the Winston County Firefighters Association, which purchased the Zello app for the county’s firefighters, providing another avenue of needed communications for them.
The department’s equipment and maintenance performed on it also played a role in lowering the rating. Currently, Pebble has two operational trucks, a pumper and a tanker. They are working to bring online another Class A pumper, a service/rescue truck and a brush truck, which will be used for grass, brush and woods fires. The brush truck can also be used as a tanker.
One area that is critical when it comes to ISO ratings and beyond any fire department’s control is the efficiency of its water supply. Smith noted that Pebble did not rank as high in this area.
“The lack of flow from the hydrants hurt us. Our hydrants don’t flow the required amount of water our insurance requires to lower the water any more. We don’t have enough infrastructure to give us the required flow rates,” Smith said.
Haleyville Water Works provides the majority of water to Pebble’s coverage area, with Double Springs Water providing a portion, as well. On average, the water lines in the area are not providing optimal flow for the hydrants, Smith noted. At the time of the inspection, Pebble had 40 working water hydrants within the area.
Smith said there is nothing the department can do about the water supply situation.
“We cannot control that. That is something the water system has to do, the local governments can do. We can ask for it, but the citizens will have to go to the local government and get this done,” Smith said.
Pebble’s coverage area goes from the Winston/Franklin line to the Booger Tree area off of Macedonia Road. They also cover one side of Newburg Road to the Winston/Franklin county line, Highway 195 to Rabbittown and split County Road 60 in the Bankhead. They also are available to provide mutual aid primarily to Haleyville, Ashridge and East Franklin fire departments, but will assist any of their fellow fire departments any way they can.
All of these accomplishments are even more extraordinary, seeing that Pebble is a strictly volunteer department. Unlike fire departments in Marion and Franklin counties or on the east side of Winston County, Pebble Fire is completely unfunded. This is also true for Delmar, Ashridge and Black Pond fire departments.
“We are completely funded by the community,” League said. “The community is as much a part of this department as any member in it. Without the community, this department will go nowhere.”
Fundraisers, fire dues and donations are the only sources of revenue for the department. Fire dues for Pebble are currently being collected for 2022. They are $25 per year, and this applies to both residential and commercial properties. To pay dues, please mail them to 488 County Road 3471, Haleyville, Ala. 35565. Dues can be dropped in the locked mailbox at the department or dropped off on Thursday nights when members meet for drill.
New members are always welcome at Pebble Fire Department. Interested persons are welcome to contact any Pebble Fire member or stop by on Thursday nights at 7 p.m. Background checks and drug screens will be performed before any new member is added to their rolls.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.