Area fire protection on the rise

Central Emergency Services has helped Soldotna get a better fire safety rating, which could translate to lower insurance rates for those living in the service area.

A subsidiary of Verisk Analytics, Insurance Services Office is a company that, among other things, classifies communities based on how well they are protected against fire through the Public Protection Classification program. During its most recent evaluation from ISO, Central Emergency Services helped the City of Soldotna get upgraded from being classified as a level 3 to a level 2 community.

“It’s a recommendation to the insurance (agencies) for their fire insurance,” said CES Chief Roy Browning in a presentation to the Soldotna City Council Wednesday. “ISO class 10 is the highest level, which is usually no fire protection within five driving miles of your fire station or some water source … ISO class 1 would be the best rating.”

The department was graded on its dispatch, or emergency communications systems, the fire department itself — including equipment, staffing and training — the water supply system, and “community efforts to reduce the risk of fire,” such as fire safety education and fire investigation, according to ISO’s website.

Insurance companies look at ISO ratings of communities to inform the rates they charge the people and commercial businesses in the areas served by fire departments. Residents in the Central Emergency Service Area can now contact their insurance providers to see if they will get a rate reduction due to the improved classification.

“Their fire insurance, effective May 1, if they contact their insurance (provider), there’s a possibility of getting a rate reduction, both for commercial property and residential,” Browning said.

There are 1,164 communities in the United States with a public protection classification of 2, according to ISO’s website. Not all insurance companies use ISO ratings to inform their rates as much as others, Browning said. Larger insurers can rely on different data more than the ISO information to factor into their rates, he said.

The Kenai Fire Department has been holding steady at a level 3 classification for the last several evaluations, said Kenai Fire Chief Jeff Tucker. There are 3,265 cities in the nation with a level 3 rating, according to ISO’s website, and only four in the state of Alaska.

“For a core city, that’s pretty good,” Tucker said.

For a city to move from a class 3 to class 2 community, certain things at area fire departments can be improved, Tucker said, like color coding hydrants to show firefighters what kind of water flow they can expect from them.

However, Tucker said there is a balance between the benefit the new classification would have on fire insurance rates and the cost to the fire department to implement the changes necessary for that classification upgrade. If the cost to get to a better classification outweighs the potential savings to the community in rate reductions, or if the changes at the fire department wouldn’t be in the best interest of the residents and businesses in the service area, it’s not worth “chasing” a better ISO rating, Tucker said.

“We have a good, solid ISO rating,” he said. “For us to make the expense to try and get an ISO 2 rating, it’s not cost effective … to go to from a 3 to a 2.”

Browning told the Soldotna City Council in his presentation that CES could have scored slightly better on one portion of the evaluation if it had color coded its own hydrants, but that the department found it would have cost more for the paint than would have been saved in rate reductions.

Nikiski Fire Chief James Baisden said it can be a good idea for residents to call around to different insurance providers if they aren’t being offered a rate reduction. Each agency handles the ISO ratings differently and therefore lets them factor into their rates differently, he said.

The Nikiski Fire Department received a level 6 rating at its last evaluation, up from a classification of 7, but it is due for another evaluation soon, Baisden said. One of the biggest factors in the department’s lower rating is the more than 6,000 square mile service area it covers, which includes part of the Cook Inlet and the communities of Beluga and Tyonek. With such a large service area and only two fire stations, many of the residents covered by Nikiski Fire are left further than 5 miles from the department.

Baisden said the department hopes to address this by adding a third station near Holt-Lamplight Road this fall. Three fire stations would increase the department’s coverage from 50 percent to 70 percent, Baisden said.

“We have improved, and we continue to improve,” he said.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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