Tylertown celebrates improved fire rating

Tylertown celebrates improved fire rating

[Photo: Tylertown Fire Department Chief Hervon McCollum gets a celebratory hug at the announcement of the fire department’s new, improved ISO rating. (Catharin Shepard photo)]

By Catharin Shepard • Editor • For two years the volunteer firefighters of Tylertown have trained, responded to emergency calls and sought out equipment to provide fire protection in the district.

For years before that, Tylertown Fire Chief Hervon McCollum and supporters fought to get local officials’ approval to have the station’s fire tax income and management turned over to its own leadership.

There were “a lot of obstacles in the way,” the chief said, but the people behind the department “stayed the course.”

“We went from Virginia, South Carolina, up to the mountains to try and find equipment for our station. We met some fine folks along the way, and they helped us get to this point where we are right now,” McCollum said. “The trucks we’ve got are in good shape, and the community was behind us all the way. We just got back in operation in 2022, so in two years, we have accomplished a lot.”

The long journey and hard work paid off last week when the State Fire Marshal’s Office revealed to the station’s personnel, who waited in rapt anticipation, that the Tylertown Fire Department had significantly improved its fire rating.

“I’m just going to read out the number,” state fire inspector Lee Kennedy said. “With a score of a 69, Tylertown community will be a Class 4 rating.”

Cheers and tears broke out, and McCollum was pulled into a hug as the station and its supporters celebrated the news.

“Yes, Lord! Thank you, Jesus!” a woman said.

“Just do it, just do it!” some of the firefighters chanted the motto found on some of the trucks.

Vehicles at Tylertown Fire Department in Hoke County stand ready to respond to emergencies.

When it effectively started from scratch in 2022 as a reorganized, re-chartered fire department, the Tylertown Fire Department received the standard 9S rating assigned to new, rural fire departments. When the inspectors from the state returned to reevaluate the department two years later, they assigned it the much higher Class 4 rating on the Insurance Services Office (ISO) scale. The ISO scale scores fire departments from 1-10, with Class 1 representing the best public protection and a Class 10 representing no fire protection.

Tylertown’s Class 4 rating represented a big jump from the starting 9S rating. In comparison, only a few of the largest and longest-established fire departments in Hoke County have earned the even-higher ISO Class 2 rating.

“While lower ratings do not necessarily indicate poor service, a higher rating does suggest that a department is overall better equipped to respond to fires in its district. Higher ratings can also significantly lower homeowners insurance rates in that fire district,” a press release from the Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM) said.

The fire department’s chief said the residents of Tylertown deserve to have the lower insurance rate that comes with a better ISO rating of the local station.

“The people over here need a break, they need to be paying the same insurance that everybody else in the county is paying,” McCollum said.

The new rating will go into effect for Tylertown Fire Department beginning June 1, 2024.

The department’s chief set a positive tone for the evening even before the news was announced.

“We’re glad to have each and every one of you, and we pray that the information we receive tonight will better the community and Tylertown Volunteer Fire Department. It was a great journey that we were on. I tell the guys, all you have to do, put the time in, and put the work in, and pray for the Father above, and all things will work out. We pray tonight that these things will work out for us. They always have, and we know they always will,” McCollum said in welcoming remarks.

When the announcement was made after dinner at the station, he turned out to be right.

“I can tell you guys, I’ve been in the fire service a long time, I’ve been around it a long time. Excuse my language when I say this, but y’all kicked ass,” longtime Puppy Creek Fire Department Chief John Joseph said. “To accomplish what you accomplished is honestly unheard-of.”

Joseph, current Puppy Creek Chief Richard Whiteside, county fire Commissioner Bobby Wright, Hoke Sheriff Roderick Virgil and Hoke Emergency Management were among the local leaders who joined in celebrating the news.

The station’s roster of volunteer firefighters includes over 30 people, plus many other supporters who have worked to get the department running again. It took the efforts of many different offices to get the department the better rating, Kennedy explained.

“We come in and evaluate the fire department, the water department, the 911 center and the fire marshal’s office. We take those numbers and divide them together. Everything has a score on a point scale. You total it up and you get your score,” Kennedy said.

The work of fellow fire departments around the county that respond to mutual aid calls is also taken into account, he said.

Tylertown Fire Department has a long history of providing fire protection in the Tylertown community of the Doc Brown Road area. The Hoke County Board of Commissioners voted in 2022 to award the station a new contract for fire protection services.

McCollum shared thanks to the other departments for their support. Tylertown will keep working on getting better from here, the chief said.

“You always want to do better. You never want to stop. You always want to keep improving,” McCollum said. “The next step right now, the biggest step, is to build us a station. Someone says, how is that going to happen? Some didn’t think we were going to get where we are now, but we have. So we’re going to build a station. We’ve just got to find the right people to come in and help us.”

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