The Washington Surveying & Rating Bureau, a 100-year-old organization that strives to provide accurate information on property risks to insurance company subscribers, determines comparative classifications for insurance rating purposes.
“They rate fire districts and determine how well they are doing,” Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One Chief John Burgess said.
Although insurance companies are under no obligation to utilize what’s known as an Insurance Service Office rating, Burgess said most view them as important as they formulate insurance quotes.
The ISO evaluation takes into account factors such as call times, how long it takes them to reach areas, coverage area, water pressure of hydrants, fire training and staffing levels.
One of the biggest factors is the evaluation of the water supply, Burgess said. That includes everything from the condition and maintenance of hydrants, existing alternative water sources and the amount of available water — both in terms of volume and pressure — compared with the amounted needed to suppress fires.
In practical terms for the Gig Harbor area — a mix of suburban and rural — that means more water is available in suburban areas due to the prevalence of fire hydrants, Burgess said.
“So, those are all elements that go into it,” he said.
The ISO evaluates that information and assigns an advisory number from 1 to 10. A 1 rating generally represents exemplary fire protection, while a 10 indicates a community’s fire department does not meet the ISO’s minimum criteria.
“We’ve always done well here,” Burgess said, noting the unincorporated portion of the department’s coverage area is rated at a 5, and the incorporated area is rated at a 4.
“Most of my career — I started here in 1987 — the rating has been stagnant,” he said, adding the department improved its ratings during an assessment two years ago that was done at the department’s request.
“It was worth it, because we thought we could lower rates for our community,” Burgess said of improvements to the department’s staffing and water supply at the time.
Burgess likes the ISO rating system.
“It’s a way of evaluating the effectiveness of the fire department,” he said. “So it’s kind of nice.”
Good ratings are nice for homeowners, too, as the department’s overall quality and performance can affect the cost of home insurance.
“It benefits taxpayers by having insurance go down,” Burgess said.
Reporter Brett Davis can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gateway_brett.