EASLEY — When the Box Alarm system was implemented county-wide a few month ago, some of the larger fire departments — Easley’s in particular — weren’t expecting to see much return from system.
As it turned out, they were wrong and Easley Fire Chief Butch Womack couldn’t be happier about it.
“We being one of the biggest departments, I didn’t figure we would benefit from it,” said Womack. “But in the first month we benefited from it three or four times because we had fires in that area and Liberty responded every time.”
According to Womack, the Box Alarm is a system that boils down to one thing: teamwork.
“How it worked before is wherever your home or business was, you were assigned to a certain fire station that was based off district lines,” he explained. “If you had a fire, that station — the one you were ‘assigned’ to — would respond. Now, say you’re in an Easley area, but Liberty actually has a closer station to you — or Pickens or Dacusville. Your ‘assigned’ department is still going to come out, but now these guys are too. Automatically. They don’t have to wait to be called in for assistance, they’re just going to respond.”
It’s the kind of common sense system — “whoever is closest should help” — that makes you wonder: Why on Earth is this just now becoming a thing? Shouldn’t we have always been doing it this way?
“Well, it’s been in the works for several years but it was held back because we just didn’t have everything in place. There were some communication problems,” said Womack. “But now that it’s up and running, it’s been a great thing.”
But communication doesn’t just stop once a station is “toned out” to a particular box, each station has a chart letting neighboring stations know what it is they want, be it manpower, water, hoses — you name it, Womack said.
“The effect has been you have the closest department responding with exactly what they need,” he said. “It’s been a win-win.”
Besides people in outlying fire districts getting better fire protection, the Box Alarm system is benefiting residents closer to town as well, specifically when it comes to their ISO ratings.
ISO, or Insurance Service Office, ratings are set by determining how at risk your home is when it comes to fire protection. If you live in the city limits and have a fire hydrant right out front, chances are your ISO rating is going to be lower (better) than someone who lives out in the country — and accordingly, your insurance rates will be lower.
There are several layers of requirements that have to be met before a department can apply to lower their ISO rating. They range from everything from manpower and response time to water access and hydrant and station location. Equipment, training, hose length and pipe width — it’s all taken into account to come up with a department’s final number.
As of August 2017, the ISO evaluates over 50,000 fire departments nationwide. Only 186 of them have earned the coveted Class 1 Rating.
Currently, the Easley Fire Department enjoys the lowest ISO rating in Pickens County, with a 2.
Womack said that due to the agency’s stringent regulations, getting to an ISO rating of 1 was “nearly impossible.” That is, it was … But that was before neighboring districts began pooling their resources with the Box Alarm.
“This isn’t something that can happen overnight,” he said. “We can’t just show them one month’s worth of numbers and expect them to go on that. But we are hitting them, and we’re hitting them consistently.”
Womack said the process of getting to an ISO 1 could take up to a year or more in order to tabulate the numbers and prove that the department’s response times haven’t been — for lack of a better word — “flukes.”
“What we’re working on is getting our timed response and the man power on the scene,” he said. “We’re even going to change around a little of how we do things in house. But we’ll get there.”
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.