BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – City residents can thank the efforts of the city and the Fort Madison Fire Department for a pending reduction in their homeowner insurance rates.
The city’s fire department was recently assessed a rating of “3” from previously a “4” from the Insurance Service Organization. A “1” is the best ranking a fire department can get.
Fire Chief Joey Herren said the rating improvement is based on improvements on several fronts including water service, communications, and fire department improvements including training, equipment, and other efficiencies.
‘It’s done by the ISO and they give us a public protection classification. Normally that’s on a 10-year rotation. When I became chief in 2006 we were a “5” and I started looking at things, we changed some things,” Herren said Tuesday.
But he said the city’s construction of a new water plant, combined with the new coordinated LeeComm dispatch center all contributed to moving the needle from a 5 to a 4. Then the additional training mechanisms and the use of Firehouse software to track the fire department’s progress, coupled with improvements on the inspection process all has helped the department get the “3” rating.
Herren said now the ISO group is looking to move the inspections to a three to five-year rotation.
He said the assessment begins with a pre-survey of the department.
“We have to send in that pre-survey for the assessment. We fill that out and get points for different areas of that form.”
The new water plant has helped with the pressure of the water at hydrants across the city, which are tested regularly by the city water department. A higher water pressure is indicative of better water flow, which yields a better score on that criteria. The dispatch center provided a centralized dispatch with more staff, which resulted in better communication and quicker response times.
He said the fire department had a big hand in the higher rating as well.
“On our side of it, it’s about trucks and personnel. About how we respond with tandem trucks and our fleet being as updated as it is. That keeps us in good standing, ” Herren said. One of our biggest improvements is how we record our training. We now use Firehouse for all our recording. There’s different modules on that system, so now all training and building inspections are done through that software and it’s very good.”
Another area that resulted in additional points for the department was the new inspection process. Herren said the new rental and commercial inspection processes have created a risk reduction and that meant points as well. He said the city’s rental inspection program conducted by City Building Director Doug Krogmeier and Herren has really cut down on the risk and actual fires in the city.
“The rental inspection program that Doug and I go out and do has really resulted in reduction of fires. We think it’s that program. We used to have a lot of extension cord fires where people overload them. We really hit that now with the rental owners and tell them they have to cut back on that and we’ve seen good results there.” Herren said. “I have no way of saying that’s what caused it, because I don’t. But that’s one of the other factors that made it drop down.”
He said there has been pushback on the inspections from property owners, but now those property owners may be able to see the financial benefits of the program, aside from the safety aspect.
Herren said there are only 3,409 fire departments in the country that have a class “3” rating or better.
The ratings also help when attracting manufacturing and industry. That reduces the insurance costs for people looking to locate here. They also like to see that we have a pretty efficient fire department.
He said he spoke with a city insurance agent this morning who told him rates would drop shortly for city property owners.
“I spoke with them this morning and they said commercial and residential rates should drop 5% to 8% and that really shows that we have an efficient fire department.”
A rating of 3 means the city fire department scored between 70 and 79 points. Herren said Fort Madison scored 73.5 points and getting to the rating of “2” may not save the city enough on the insurance side of things to substantiate the cost to the city to get there.
“It’s a risk vs. reward type thing,” Herren said. “We would have to add staff and do some other things to get that rating to go up and you have to measure how much you’d have to spend to get that higher ranking. But this is a nice feather in our cap and it’s telling you we have a very efficient department.”