City's fire safety rating upgraded

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  The city of Elizabethton has joined an elite group of U.S. communities receiving high ratings for fire suppression, according to an insurance industry assessment organization.
  City Manager Charles Stahl announced Friday that the city's public protection classification (PPC) had been upgraded from a Class 5 to a Class 4 designation after a survey conducted earlier this year by ISO, a data gathering organization used by the insurance industry to determine underwriting and premiums for properties.
  The ISO survey scores the class designation by evaluating three community features: Fire alarms and emergency communication, the fire department, and the water supply system.
  "It takes a lot of work and a lot of effort from your personnel including your city manager and City Council," said Elizabethton Fire Chief Michael Shouse.
  The PPC is graded on a scale of one to 10 with one indicating a near 100 percent maximum score. Only 6.9 percent of communities around the nation assessed by ISO presently hold a Class 4 designation. Less than 4 percent of communities in the United States hold a Class 1 to 3 designation.
  Stahl said the new rating "is a tribute to the hard work of every member of the Elizabethton Fire Department, which made this improvement possible." He also commended city personnel in the Elizabethton Water Department for improvement to water lines within the city's utility system.
  The ISO evaluates communities according to a uniform set of criteria defined by the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS). The criteria incorporates nationally recognized standards developed by the National Fire Protection Association and the American Water Works Association. The FSRS scores determine the public protection classification.
  According to the PPC survey released to city administration earlier this month, Elizabethton's fire alarm response, fire department, and water supply earned a 65.46 percent credit out of a possible 100 percent maximum score. A Class 4 designation is earned with a combined score between 60 and 69 percent under the FSRS criteria.
  A community's fire department evaluation accounts for 50 percent of the classification. The department score involves review of a department's engine and ladder trucks, distribution of fire stations, equipment, water pumping capacity, department staff and firefighter training. The water supply evaluation reviews fire hydrant sizes as well as the water supply a community uses for fire suppression. The water supply system represents 40 percent of the classification score.
  "It is an extremely thorough examination of all three," said Shouse. "Plus it gives you a benchmark to shoot for in the future for what you try to improve on in the future."
  The emergency communication aspect of fire alarms account for 10 percent of the survey score. Walter Pierce, executive director of the Elizabethton-Carter County 911 Communications District, said ISO evaluated his agency's communication system and dispatching system as part of the survey. He said the system's new geographic tracking system and back communication lines to fire department proved favorable to ISO evaluators.
  "The biggest thing was the backup electrical system and backup telephone system," said Pierce.
  The Elizabethton Fire Department maintains three fire stations manned by 33 firefighters. Shouse said the department received a new pumper truck purchased in the city's 2005 fiscal year budget two weeks ago. He said the truck should be put into service this week.
  ISO is the leading supplier of statistical, underwriting, and claims data for the property/casualty insurance industry. When ISO develops a single classification for a community, all of the community's properties receive that classification. Public protection classifications allow insurers to incorporate changes to the policy rating systems. An improvement in classification may reflect lower insurance premiums for residential and commercial property owners.
  The city's new PPC designation becomes effective Dec. 1.