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City achieves higher rating for fire protection

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Fire protection in Springfield is of a higher class than that of any other town in Missouri. Springfield firefighters earned this bragging right Nov. 12 with the announcement that the city had been moved from a Class 3 to a Class 2 fire protection rating. The rating comes from the Insurance Services Officer, a national organization which rates the suppression capabilities of fire departments.

The improved rating, which is the second-highest rating a municipality can receive, could result in about a 3 percent decrease in property insurance premiums for people who own commercial property.

Residential property owners may not see as much of a decrease because of the way some insurance companies group ISO ratings and figure discounts.

The new rating goes into effect Dec. 1. The decrease in the premiums for commercial property owners are not as great as they would be if the rating were changing from a four to a three or from a 10 (the lowest rating) to a nine, but the change could still be significant for some policyholders, said Richard Ollis, of Ollis & Company Insurors. Ollis said the rating could be an overall positive for economic development in the city.

"As businesses are looking at communities, they can look on the charts and see that the property insurance premiums are much lower in some communities, and that will make those communities more attractive," Ollis said.

Ollis added that there are few communities that can qualify for a Class 2 rating, and that alone could set Springfield apart.

Fire Chief Steve Strader said that the city is the only town in Missouri with a rating of two. The closest city with the same rating is Little Rock, Ark.

One of the significant factors in Springfield's getting the improved rating was the city's water distribution system. Strader said City Utilities deserved a great deal of credit for the rating because its water distribution system is so efficient.

"CU has had a lot of foresight in developing its water system. Without our water distribution being what it is, it would have been impossible for us to move up into this class. ... They have such a good reliable system. If we had to ask them to divert additional water, we know that can be done at any time without damage to the system," Strader said.

Gerald Lee, executive senior manager at City Utilities, said the city's water system is now very good with respect to its fire flow.

"If you look at the cost of our infrastructure, 60 to 70 percent is fire protection. If we just needed the water flow for customers' use, we could have much smaller water mains, but because we need the larger mains for fire protection, we chose to put those larger mains in," Lee said.

Though CU has updated the system, it did so as part of an overall strategic plan, and it will continue to update the system according to that plan, Lee said. He added that the utility is pleased to have contributed to the city's improved ISO rating.

"It's a great thing for us and for the community. We're extremely happy to have taken part in it," Lee said.

Besides improvements to the CU water distribution system, the Fire Department had to make some internal changes in order to attain the higher rating, Strader said. The relocation of Fire Station No. 5 and construction of the new Fire Station No. 11 were among these improvements.

The department also added a ladder company by redistributing personnel, improved its dispatching capabilities, increased the number of training hours required and improved the training itself.

The main improvement to dispatch was the addition of a backup system. Before, the department used a series of red phones; those were updated and replaced with an ISO-recognized backup system, Strader said.

In order to attain the Class 2 rating, the Fire Department had to score at least 80 percent on its ISO evaluation. The Fire Department scored 80.53 percent .

The protection class a city is assessed depends on the credit it receives. A Class 1 rating is given with a departmental score of 90 percent or more.

Though the department will continue to improve its operation, Strader said a one rating is unlikely, because the department will probably not be able to add the staff it would need for such a rating.

"Right now, we're thrilled to have attained the two rating.

"We feel like that says many positive things about our department," Strader said.

PHOTO CAPTION:

Fire Chief Steve Strader says Springfield is the only town in Missouri with a Class 2 rating.[[In-content Ad]]

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