Oktibbeha County Fire Services officials are working through a process that will improve Bell Schoolhouse Volunteer Fire Department’s coverage area to a Class 8 rating, thereby giving homeowners a significant discount on annual insurance premiums.
County supervisors passed a resolution earlier this month creating the Bell Schoolhouse Fire District, which services the northern portion of the county connected to Highway 389 and Rockhill Road. With the county’s legal paperwork complete, officials must take the application to the Mississippi State Ratings Bureau.
MSRB officials will visit the county in the future and evaluate, among other strengths and weaknesses, BSVFD’s ability to shuttle 500 gallons of water per minute during an impromptu test somewhere within the fire district.
BSVFD Chief Wade Howell said it is not yet known when MSRB officials will visit the county for the expected testing, but OCFS officials are hopeful the entire ratings classification process will be completed in a year.
Improving a fire district’s rating has significant financial implications for homeowners in the area. The area currently serviced in the new fire district has a Class 10 rating, and Austin Check, OCFS director of recruitment, retention and training, said a move to a Class 8 could save insurance payers up to 35 percent on their annual rates.
“Moving from a Class 10 to a Class 9 saves the owner of a wood-frame home with $55,000 worth of insurance almost $300 in a year, so obviously people would feel the impact of a Class 8 even more,” he said while citing MSRB statistics. “(When evaluators come for water testing), they can point at any spot on the map, and we have to be ready that day.”
Excluding Starkville, outlying Oktibbeha County fire coverage is shared between seven main volunteer fire departments. With the addition of the Bell Schoolhouse’s, five of those areas are serviced with individual fire districts, and four of the five districts are rated at a Class 8.
Maben and Sturgis are both rated at a Class 8, but the territory outside the cities but within their respective departments’ coverage area is rated a Class 10.
District 5 Volunteer Fire Department was the most recent entity to form a fire district and improve its rating to a Class 8. It did so in 2012.
Facilitating water transportation and shuttling is paramount to earning and holding improved ratings in the county. OCFS recently announced it would replace two aging District 5 tanker trucks with a new, higher-capacity unit by utilizing federal grant monies.
Check said BSVFD has the long-term capacity to handle increased water-transportation requirements since the county purchased a $220,000 pumper truck for the department in 2011.
Oktibbeha County is expected to continue to piecemeal fire ratings districts by first establishing them and later annexing more territory after proving the individual volunteer fire departments can handle the ratings’ requirements.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch