Records Appraisal Report:
Department of Insurance State Fire Marshal Key Rate City Files

Contents of this report
Agency Contact | Record Series Review

Internal links to series reviews
Key Rate City Files

November 1, 2001, Laura K. Saegert, Appraisal Archivist

Agency Contact

This agency contact information was current at the time of the report but may have changed in the interim. Please call (512-463-5455) for current contact information of the agency's records manager or records liaison for these records.

Scott Smith

Records Series Review
Series Title: Key Rate City Files

Obsolete record series? No
Replaced by:

Ongoing record series? Yes
Annual accumulation: unknown

Agency holdings: The agency holds records from 1911- present, 160-170 cubic ft., about 700 maps

The series consists of reports, correspondence, maps, photographs, clippings, and blueprints, concerning the key rating of cities and towns in Texas for fire protection purposes. Dates covered are 1911-2001. The bulk of the reports present are inspection reports of cities and towns by the National Board of Fire Underwriters and/or the State Fire Insurance Commission. Each report gives an overview of the city and details of the fire department operations (organization, equipment, personnel), the water supply and water distribution network, water consumption, structural conditions and hazards, municipal building codes, building construction, electric services, and conflagration hazards; ending with recommended improvements. Each report generally contains a plat or street map, most showing streets, railroads, public areas, rivers and lakes, water pumping stations, water mains, water tanks, fire departments, and fire hydrants. For many cities, the reports were written every 10 years or so, and the later reports refer back to the earlier ones, noting changes or improvements made or still needed.

Also present is correspondence, mainly between the State Board of Insurance (or the predecessor agency handling this function) and city officials and engineers and/or the National Board of Fire Insurance Underwriters. Topics concern the fire fighting capabilities of the city, including equipment needed, changes to pumping stations, water main construction or repairs, building code issues, key rate issues, fire code compliance for buildings, and conflagration issues. Many letters in the late 1930s concern WPA projects undertaken and refer to attached blueprints, most of which are not present with these files.

Other items found in the files include operational or engineering reports on water distribution systems, water and waste water master plans, inspection reports of fire fighting equipment, certificates of inspection for pumpers or other fire department apparatus, manufacturer's record of construction details, reports of city fire departments, street maps, water system maps, blueprints, clippings, and photographs.

Housed separately are a large group of original maps of water system of cities and towns. These maps show streets and roads, rivers, lakes, water lines, fire hydrant locations, and other water system features. These maps are hand-drawn, most have been done by the Engineering Division of the Department of Insurance. Many of the maps were updated every 10 years or so. There are about 400 rolled maps, and about 300 flat maps. There is also a set of 10 oversized atlases of cities and towns, consisting of bits and pieces of Sanborn maps and manuscript maps, used to focus on features in sections of the city.

These are files used to determine the key rating of cities in their effectiveness in fighting fires. Cities are periodically reviewed then given a rating on how effectively they can be expected to fight fires.

Agency program:
The history of state regulation of insurance in Texas dates from the Texas Constitution of 1876 when a bill creating the Department of Insurance, Statistics and History was passed on August 21, 1876. The Department had the responsibility to file and maintain insurance company charters. During the twentieth century, there have been several major reorganizations of the state regulatory agency charged with the regulation of the insurance industry. In 1909, Senate Bill 291, 31st Legislature, required insurance companies to file financial and other information with the new Commissioner of Insurance and Banking. By 1923, a separate office, Commissioner of Insurance was established. In 1927, the Commissioner of Insurance was consolidated with the Fire Insurance Commissioner to create the Board of Insurance Commissioners. This board was abolished in 1957 and replaced with the State Board of Insurance. The State Board of Insurance was composed of three members, appointed by the Governor, with Senate approval. Members served six-year overlapping terms. The Board was governed by the Texas Insurance Code, which was first enacted in 1951 by Senate Bill 236 of the 52nd Legislature, Regular Session. From 1957-1991, the term "State Board of Insurance" was sometimes used to refer to the agency and all of its employees. At other times, it was used to designate only the three-member Board. The Board had initial jurisdiction over policies, rules, and rates, and over appeals from the Commissioner of Insurance. The Board appointed, with the consent of the Senate, the Commissioner of Insurance, who acted as the executive and administrative officer for the agency.

In 1991, the 72nd Legislature, 2nd Called Session, House Bill 62, revised the regulation of insurance and changed the agency's name to the Department of Insurance. The three-member State Board of Insurance was itself abolished by House Bill 1461 passed by the 73rd Legislature in 1993. The management and regulatory duties of the Board became the responsibility of the Commissioner of Insurance as of September 1, 1994. The Commissioner is now the overall authority in the enforcement of the Insurance Code and the regulation of the insurance industry in Texas.

The State Fire Marshall is a division of the Texas Department of Insurance. It conducts fire and arson investigations; performs fire safety inspections; regulates the storage, handling, and use of flammable liquids at retail service stations; and issues permits for the display and sale of fireworks. The office also licenses and regulates the installation and maintenance of fire extinguishers, fire alarms, and automatic fire sprinkler systems.

The State Fire Marshall also oversees the fire suppression rating of cities and towns in the state. Prior to 1997, the Department of Insurance used a key rating system in determining a city's fire protection requirements. This rate used population as the primary basis for determining a city's fire protection requirements. A city's key rate affected the rates insurers use in issuing homeowners insurance policies. Effective January 1, 1997, all existing key rates for cities were frozen. The state switched to a Fire Suppression Rating Schedule, the system used in all other states, which grades fire protection on the basis of a city's actual fire exposure and water flow necessary to control fires wherever they occur. The detailed reports of inspections are now carried out by ISO, a private organization, overseen by the State Fire Marshall.

There are two sets of files: City records and city maps. Within each group, files are arranged by city, then by date.

Access constraints: None

Use constraints: None

Indexes or finding aids required for/or an aid to access? None available to my knowledge.

Problems: None

Known related records in other agencies: Some records may be duplicated in city planning offices or courthouses.

Publications based on records: None

Internet pages based on records: None known

Series data from agency schedule:
Title: Key rates
Series item number: none
Agency item number: 15180
Archival code: none
Retention: AV

Archival holdings:
None in the holdings of the Archives and Information Services Division of the Library and Archives Commission.

Texas Documents Collection holdings: None

Gaps: None

Appraisal decision:
The key rate city files contain a great deal of evidentiary information about the function of investigating the cities to determine key rates for fire protection capabilities. Files are present for some cities and towns going back to 1911. The files also have secondary value as they provide information about the city or town over a 60 to 80 year period in some cases, documenting not only fire protection capabilities, but also water systems, building codes, conflagration problems, etc. The maps provide a way to track water mains over time, both the lines and the hydrants or old water storage tanks. As a secondary source, the maps also provide information about the cities, especially for smaller towns that the Archives has little documentation on. They show streets, railroads, and rivers and creeks through town; some show cemeteries, public buildings and public areas. The information in these files and on the maps is sought by historic preservationists, historians, archeologists, and family historians, among others.

The agency wants to transfer the files from the beginning, 1911 to 1997, and all of the maps. I see sufficient evidentiary and informational value in these records to appraise these as archival. I recommend the entire set of files - records and maps - be transferred to the State Archives. Most of the boxes are not in proper records storage boxes and the files will need to be reboxed prior to transfer.

Note: This series was appraised as archival by the Archives appraisal staff in November 2001. The records and all maps were transferred to the State Archives shortly thereafter.

Page last modified: August 31, 2011