The cost of residential and commercial fire insurance premiums throughout the county should drop due to the results of an Insurance Services Office Inc. inspection conducted countywide last October.
Commissioner Bebe Heiskell recently announced that Walker County Emergency Services has been granted a Class 3 ISO rating, with the new rate becoming effective May 1.
"All homeowners are advised to contact their insurance company about possibly lowering their premium," County Coordinator David Ashburn said.
He said it has been a cooperative effort by all county departments and the public's willingness to fund necessary upgrades - adding more hydrants, new stations, a new fire tower and improving firefighter equipment and training - that has made this possible.
"We're the only rural county in Georgia with a Class 3," he said, adding that during the past 12 years of Heiskell's administration the ISO rating had already improved from Class 6 to Class 4.
While that was a major improvement, the recent reclassification to Class 3 marks a major milestone for the county.
To stress the "historic" significance of what Chief Randy Camp and his countywide fire and emergency service have accomplished, Ashburn pointed out that a Class 3 is rare everywhere, not just in rural areas.
"There are 47,242 [fire] departments nationwide and only 1,198 have received a Class 3," he said. "Of the 1,038 departments that have been rated in Georgia, 56 have a Class 3 rate. We're in the top 9 percent statewide."
The county's new rate is a split rating of Class 3/8B, which improved on the previous Class 4/9. The first number is for structures within five miles of a fire station, the second number for those more than five miles from a station or more than 1,000 feet from a hydrant.
"We are only the second department in the state to receive a 3/8B rating," Ashburn said.
Bettering the ISO rating offers more than bragging rights, it also means substantial savings for property owners - particularly businesses.
Ashburn said someone with a $150,000 home in an ISO Class 10 area might pay more than $2,400 annually, but would see that bill drop to about $1,000 if the same house was in an area rated ISO Class 3. Someone in a Class 9 area that had previously paid about $1,900 annually could see their annual premium drop to less than $1,500.
Premium reductions should be even greater for commercial and industrial properties, something officials say is a key factor when recruiting businesses.
Chief Camp and his staff planned the best ways to get the "biggest bang for the buck" in order to achieve the cost - and life - saving rating, according to Ashburn.
As examples, he cited equipping all fire trucks with 5-inch hoses. That meant spending about $120,000 of special purpose local options sales tax revenue, but buying larger hoses saved about $20 million by allowing the distance between hydrants to remain 1,000, rather than 500, feet apart.
Another expense, buying four tanker trucks that are strategically situated throughout the county and kept on constant standby, has allowed the ISO rating to improve without having to install or replace miles of underground water lines.
And improvements to the Walker County 911 Center meant that the local dispatch center, the first dispatch to ever earn a perfect "10" during its 2003 rating, maintained that score during the 2012 rating.
"We are here to make it better for all our citizens," Camp said.