HUACHUCA CITY — Whetstone Fire District Chief Peter Bidon and his staff received a standing ovation at a recent Huachuca City town council meeting after Bidon reported a significant improvement in the town’s ISO (Insurance Services Office) score.
In January 2018 the town of Huachuca City entered into a contract with Whetstone Fire District for its fire protection services. At the time, the town’s ISO score was a 10, which is equivalent to “no fire protection.”
Now, the rating is a four, reflecting improvements in a number of areas that ISO uses in its evaluation process.
In his introductory remarks prior to calling Bidon to the podium to deliver his report, Huachuca City Mayor Johann Wallace praised Whetstone Fire for the town’s improved ISO score.
“In all honesty, what a lot of folks didn’t understand is that there was an extreme lack of record keeping when Chief Bidon and his staff started,” Wallace said. “Records are key and critical in getting a good ISO rating.”
Wallace also praised the town’s public works supervisor Jim Halterman for his department’s role in maintaining the town’s water distribution system as well as providing detailed, updated records.
“You can’t get a good ISO rating without a good water system,” Wallace said. “So, clearly the combination between the effectiveness of the fire chief’s leadership, as well as our public works crew, got us that improved ISO rating.”
When addressing the town council, Bidon was quick to deflect the mayor’s praise to his crew and public works department.
“First of all, I want to say that I can’t stand here and take all the credit for this,” the chief said. “My men and women worked hard for this. They went above and beyond to make sure everything was done.”
The chief also touched on the town’s fire protection status at the time Whetstone Fire District entered into its contract with Huachuca City in 2018, compared to where it is today.
“In reality, when you look at ISO and where Huachuca City was when we started, the town was in a bind. There really were no records from past years, which was the big reason for the 10 rating.”
Bidon explained why he chose to wait two years to submit records for an evaluation, despite community pressure to move the process along more quickly.
“When we came over, I warned everybody up front that this would not be an overnight process,” he said. “I know residents got a little frustrated with the delay.”
“As it is, because of public pressure, we didn’t get to submit a full three-years worth of records, which is what ISO wants in these evaluations. So, we may come back in a year or two to try for a three. But getting a four...I’m good,” Bidon said.
Once ISO returns the records, Bidon said he plans to go through the recommendations to see what his organization needs to do to get to a three.
“And if it’s feasible, we’re going to work towards that three,” he said. “Part of the problem with these ISO ratings is that it takes money.”
ISO evaluations look at a number of factors including how well equipped a fire department is; the organization’s communications system; water delivery; firefighter training and certifications; equipment testing; community outreach and education efforts, and more.
When it comes to the communications system, Whetstone Fire is dispatched through SEACOM (Southeast Arizona Communications), instead of using the town’s 911 dispatching system, as was done in past years.
“The (ISO) point advantage in being dispatched through SEACOM is huge,” Bidon explained. “Through SEACOM, we get almost all 10 points, but when we were dispatched by Huachuca City, we got less than a point.”
Bidon says he also appreciates the town’s business owners for allowing the fire district to come in and do inspections. With the exception of new businesses, the town’s inspection program has been stalled because of COVID.
When he looks back at what has been accomplished in Huachuca City, Bidon says that past deficiencies are getting fixed and continue to be improved upon. ISO ratings are good for seven years, unless a fire district or department decides to request an evaluation before that time.
“One hundred percent of the credit for these improvements goes to my entire staff,” he said. “We charged forward with trying to improve deficiencies in Huachuca City without formal records, other than the water records that were provided by public works.”
“I give huge kudos to Jim Halterman, and I want to extend my appreciation to the support we’ve received from the town as we’ve worked through this process. Getting a four rating was great news, and now our goal is to see if we can keep pushing forward and improving.”