Upgraded fire protection could mean lower insurance bills for property owners

A lot of hard work from the Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department, and the passage of a sales tax increase to fund new equipment, has paid off with an upgrade of the city’s Fire Protection Classification.

Chief Shauwn Howell said the rating by the Insurance Services Office has been changed from a Class Three to a Class Two, effective Aug. 1.

“The lower the rating, the better the department is,” Howell said during Tuesday’s monthly meeting of Coffee With The Chiefs, sponsored by Interested Citizens for Voter Registration Tuesday morning.

Howell made the same announcement later that day at the Pine Bluff Rotary Club, adding that it could help reduce insurance rates for homeowners.

“One or two is a great rating,” said Lenita Blasingame, chief deputy commissioner of the Arkansas State Insurance Department. “It took a lot of work on the part of your fire department.”

Regarding the possibility of lower rates, Blasingame said each insurance company doing business in the state files its own rates for each classification, and suggested home owners contact their insurance agents to inquire about possible savings.

According to Howell, there are more than 1,000 fire departments in the state, and only 15 of them are rated Class Two. Only two fire department in the state are rated Class One, Howell said.

The new rating followed a review of the department in the final quarter of 2012. The last time the department was rated was in 2000.

Howell said the rating is based on several factors, including fire department operations, water supply and communications.

Fifty percent of the rating is based on fire department operations which includes response to alarms, the number of engines and truck companies, the equipment carried on the trucks, staffing and training.

Another 40 percent is based on water supply, while the remaining 10 percent is communications, including how the dispatch center is staffed, the equipment there and how calls are handled.

“In 2000, we scored 77 points and increased that to 85 last year,” Howell said. “We actually raised our score by eight points and I’m going to ask for a review to find out what we have to do to get to a Class One.”

Funding from the sales tax allowed the department to upgrade two existing fire stations, start construction on a new station to replace the existing Station Three, buy new equipment, and increase staffing.

“This was a joint effort with the water company, 9-1-1 and the department and it’s something everybody should be proud of,” Howell said.