Albemarle County Fire Rescue Chief Dan Eggleston

Changes at Albemarle’s fire and rescue stations are leading to lower insurance rates for county property owners, officials announced Wednesday.

Albemarle obtained a Class 3 rating from the Insurance Services Office, or ISO, an independent New Jersey-based firm that provides insurance companies with information about a community’s fire protection program. The rating went into effect Wednesday.

“We have been busy that last 10 years making much needed improvements in our capital programs, personnel and training to ensure our system remains healthy,” said Dan Eggleston, Albemarle County’s fire and rescue chief.

ISO assigns communities a Public Protection Classification number between 1 and 10, with 1 being exemplary fire suppression and 10 being failure to meet minimum criteria.

“Previously ISO rated each fire station independently, and our ratings ranged from a 5 to 9,” Eggleston said.

The new rating puts the county among the top 15 percent of 30,000 departments surveyed nationwide. Charlottesville’s fire department reached a Class 1 rating that also went into effect Wednesday.

Eggleston said the county’s improvement rating can be attributed to increased investments in several areas — increased personnel at a number of fire stations, training programs, volunteer recruitment and apparatus investments.

The newest station, the Ivy fire and rescue station, opened in July 2013 to improve coverage in western Albemarle.

“The Ivy station helped lower the rating and has made such a great impact on that community on a daily basis,” Eggleston said.

Eggleston also said Albemarle scored well on risk reduction strategies, a new addition to the ISO survey.

“We have focused attention on community risk reduction efforts to reduce losses through fire prevention, public education and fire investigation,” Eggleston said.

Supervisor Jane Dittmar said the new rating is the result of an investment in people, equipment, safety gear and fire stations.

“It’s also a tribute to educating the Board of Supervisors as to what can make a fire system work,” Dittmar said.

Improved ratings lead to lower insurances costs because many insurance providers use the rating when deciding prices for personal or property insurance.

 “A lot of insurance companies will automatically have the technology in place to catch this [new rating] so most people will see a reduction upon renewal time,” Beth Towe, of Towe Insurance, said.

People in the rural areas will see a bigger difference because those already living within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant or five miles from a fire station may already be receiving a credit, Towe said.

Although some people know that the distance to the fire department affects their insurance costs, Towe said they often don’t understand the other pieces regarding protection class, which is listed as a part of rating information on policies.

“The protection class directly impacts the credit or surcharge that your policy will receive,” Towe said. “The fact that the county has been able to get a countywide stamp of approval … is a positive.”