Pigeon Forge fire rating gets boost; lower insurance rates may be ahead

Dec. 08, 2012 @ 11:07 PM

People in Pigeon Forge can sleep more soundly — and save money.

The New Jersey firm Insurance Services Office (ISO), which advises insurers on rates, has given the city of Pigeon Forge a class 3 fire protection rating. That improves on the class 5 rating the city has held since 1988.

Because of the change, "The citizens and business owners in our district will have a dramatic difference in the amount of money they pay for fire insurance," said Fire Chief Tony Watson.

The change takes effect in April. Gatlinburg also holds a class 3 rating. Sevierville's rating is 4.

ISO assigns cities Public Protection Classification ratings on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 indicating the best protection. Pigeon Forge is one of just 38 class 3 communities among 1,107 Tennessee cities the firm rates. Five Tennessee cities hold the class 2 rating. There are no class 1 cities in the state.

The new rating owes to numerous changes at the fire department. A big one came in 2007, when professional firefighters replaced volunteers.

"We looked at everything we could do to make improvements," said Watson, who became the department's first paid fire chief in early ’07. "We looked at the number of trucks, the number of ladders, man power, training, the water supply for the city, the communication system."

In May, evaluators from Insurance Services Office visited Pigeon Forge for three days. Their survey was intense, Watson said. "They inspected our records. We provided them with hydraulic tests, hydraulic flows. They did spot checks. They looked over all our equipment. They visited our 911 system in Sevier County. They looked over the distribution system for our water."

The new rating is a major accomplishment, Watson said.

"It wouldn't have been possible without the work of the City Commission, city management and my personnel."

Michael McCroskey, an associate with Barnes Insurance Agency in Pigeon Forge, called the rating change miraculous.

"Pigeon Forge had to make a major commitment," he said. Customers, he said, should see lower premiums when they buy or renew policies after the April change.

"But the main takeaway," said McCroskey, "is that you're talking about the ability to save lives. You're talking about rescue situations. That number being lower translates directly into better handling of an emergency."

If there is a fire, McCroskey said, "I want to know the troops are showing up." The new rating is "a strong seal of approval, in a very tangible way."

n kburns@themountainpress.com