North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue (NHRFR), the fire department serving Guttenberg, North Bergen, Union City, Weehawken, and West New York, was just ranked among the top 2 percent of departments in the state by an independent rating agency.
The new rating offers the possibility of lowered insurance premiums for residents and business owners in the five towns.
“Every homeowner or business should check with their insurance carriers,” suggested Michael DeOrio, co-executive director of the NHRFR. “Inform them about this, and when your renewal comes up, it could be a substantial decrease. They’re probably not going to change it until the policy period is over, but you should definitely let them know.”
Enhancements and upgrades
Insurance Service Organization (ISO), headquarted in Jersey City and a member of the Verisk Insurance Solutions group, has been performing insurance analytics since 1971. They last reviewed NHRFR in 2004, affording it a rating of 4 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Of the 688 departments in New Jersey, almost 80 percent received ratings of 3, 4, or 5. NHRFR is now among only 14 departments to receive a rating of 2. Just two departments in New Jersey received a rating of 1.
ISO reviews a wide spectrum of items within departments, weighing their findings at 10 percent for communications, 40 percent for water supply, and 50 percent for the department itself.
“We are very close to achieving a 1. It would be great for the community and for insurance rates.” –Chief Frank Montagne
NHRFR has been steadily upgrading its apparatus over the years, adding new equipment both on land and in the Hudson River, with a new fireboat servicing the Gold Coast.
The department made changes to upgrade their water delivery. “We enlarged the hose from four inches to five inches,” said Montagne. “It gave us better capabilty to deliver the water.”
“When North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue was created our goal was to create not just a more efficient department to protect taxpayer resources, but to build the very best fire protection unit in the state,” said Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, the NHRFR management committee chairman, in a prepared statement.
“This impressive rating from the ISO speaks to the success we have had and shows how far we have come,” he continued. “It’s a testament to the hard work of each and every one of brave men who put their lives on the line to protect our citizens and to the solid management structure we have put in place to better serve our communities.”
Over a year to review
NHRFR was established in 1999 by combining the local fire departments of the five towns into one unit, allowing for more efficient operations and shared services. As the third largest fire department in the state – and one of the youngest – it has one of the best response times in the country.
Frank Montagne took over as chief in 2012 and immediately set his sights on raising the rating from ISO. He spearheaded many of the improvements and upgrades to the department, utilizing significant government grants. Numerous firefighters have been hired, mostly veterans.
ISO reviews fire departments in rotation, taking many years to come back for a follow-up visit. But departments can apply to be reviewed earlier, and that’s what NHRFR did.
“Frank was the one who came to the board of directors saying he felt confident he could put enough information together to get a reduction,” said DeOrio. “He thought we could at least go down to a 3. It wound up that we actually went down two steps to a 2. We only missed a rating of 1 by a few small criteria.”
The review process took over a year, according to DeOrio. “We have to prepare all the information. They want to know about hydrant locations. They want to know about water supply. They want to know about manpower, apparatus. And they just don’t want you to say, ‘Yeah, we have that.’ You’ve got to document it. How old is all your equipment? What kind of training do you do to enhance the safety of your community?”
ISO provided general guidelines for what they would be reviewing but no specifics. “You learn by experience what they want,” said DeOrio. “There were one or two things that we found out later on we could have enhanced and possibly do a little bit better. In the future we could get a number 1 rating because there are minimal things that we’ve got to incorporate into the fire service.”
“I’m not done yet,” said Montagne. “I’m looking to do even better. We are very close to achieving a 1. It would be great for the community and for insurance rates.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.