After I took the helm as fire chief in May 2017, the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department set our sights on our first goal. We began a quest to achieve an Insurance Services Office (ISO) 1 rating, the best in the nation.

Every fire department is rated between 1 to 10, with 1 being the best. Only 320 out of 44,000 departments have an ISO-1 rating. We had an ISO-3 rating. Not only would this rating benefit our department, it would also benefit all citizens of Mobile. If we succeeded, we would cut response times, provide the best training for our firefighters, reduce fire insurance premiums and help attract industry to Mobile.

To achieve this lofty goal, we had to do some things differently.

On Sept. 1, we transferred the responsibility for answering calls in the Theodore Fire Jurisdiction to the Theodore Volunteer Fire Department. Additionally, we worked with the emergency medical providers in the county and they began responding to the emergency medical calls outside the city limits. Prior to these changes, 21 percent of our calls came from outside of the city limits. Thus, we were able to focus more of our assets back into the city, ensuring our citizens received faster response and better service.

To meet ISO requirements, we purchased new fire apparatus and equipment to increase reliability and proficiency and decrease response times. We were able to acquire five new fire engines and one new ladder truck. Not only were the new trucks more reliable but expanding our fleet allowed us to place vehicles in reserve status, an ISO measurement. Our supply and equipment team identified and purchased all needed equipment and supplies. By investing in equipment, we met the requirement for the number of fire hoses, ladders, spare air tanks and many more.

We ramped up training and purchased state-of-the-art computer software to track our training. Each rank within the department has specific annual continuing education requirements that must be verified. Our firefighters completed digital and hands-on training on a daily and monthly basis. We conducted over 85,000 hours of general training and 3,500 hours of specialized training across all ranks and positions within the department.

To reach the ISO-1 rating, all of our policies needed to be in agreement with ISO standards of operation. We completely rewrote all operational guidelines, policies and rules governing our department. We reduced almost half of our outdated policies and procedures and streamlined their accessibility for our members.

On Tuesday, ISO announced the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department has achieved an ISO-1 rating. We could not have accomplished this goal alone. We could not have done it without the support of Mayor Sandy Stimpson or the Mobile City Council. We could not have done it without our GIS department, which made countless maps when we were reducing the fire jurisdiction and even more maps when we were completing our hydrant and business inspections.

The city’s motor pool and purchasing department helped us purchase the new vehicles and equipment we needed and our city garage was always there to repair the old vehicles and equipment we still relied on.

We could not have it done it without our human resources department, which helped us hire new personnel and update our policies and rules. We could not have done it without our architectural engineering department, which helped us repair and maintain our stations and generators — all counted by ISO. We could not have done it without MAWSS, because we were also graded on the availability of water for firefighting operations.

First and foremost, we could not have done it without every single member of MFRD buying into our vision to reach the ISO-1 rating. Our firefighters did whatever was asked of them to get it done. We needed to reinspect every business in the city, and they completed all 11,000 inspections in 45 days. We needed to inspect every fire hydrant, and they completed all 14,000 inspections during the next 45 days.

They inspected 90 schools, tested over 100,000 feet of fire hose and documented 282,033 citizen contacts. Most importantly, they continued to provide quality care for our citizens.

The ISO rating is a grade of tangible things that can be seen, touched and measured. While our numbers are impressive, I am more impressed with the immeasurable things that make up who we are. Our core values are competence, courage and compassion. Our firefighters exemplify all of these values.

Firefighters have servants’ hearts. They have a true desire to help others. This ISO Class 1 rating is not a surprise to me. It is proof to others of what I have known for nearly 28 years — that the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department is among the best in the nation.

Mark Sealy,
Mobile Fire Chief