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City to appeal fire safety rating

May 4, 2011

PAWTUCKET — Mayor Donald R. Grebien said the city will appeal a one-notch downgrade of the Fire Department's fire suppression rating including by supplying additional information he said should have been submitted to an independent insurance agency when it was evaluating the Fire Department back in 2009.
A 2008 review of Pawtucket's public protection classification done by the New Jersey-based Insurance Services Office resulted in a drop in the city's rating from a Class 2 to a Class 3. The Insurance Services Office (ISO) is an independent company that provides risk information to communities, insurance companies, fire departments, insurance regulators and others. The ISO typically rates municipal fire departments once every 10 years.
Grebien said the ISO rating change came to his attention only after some property owners recently began complaining about getting higher insurance bills.
The mayor said he has directed Fire Chief William Sisson to address the reported areas of concern.
He added that Sisson was optimistic the city could get its Class 2 ranking restored because the previously omitted data, once supplied, would support it.
The city's Fire Department is now ranked in Class 3, out of nine classifications, after previously being ranked in Class 2. That still leaves the department in the top 10 of the 69 fire departments in Rhode Island, none of which has a top classification ranking.
“Our residents should remain confident that our Fire Department is well up to the task of protecting them and their property,” Grebien said.
According to Douglas Hadden, director of constituent services and communications for the Grebien Administration, in July, 2009, the ISO allowed the prior fire chief under the previous administration to address some of the shortcomings noted in the 2008 evaluation so it could retain its Class 2 ranking. However, that effort was unsuccessful, in part due to not supplying adequate report data that was available and should have been supplied, according to Sisson, and the lower rating went into effect.
In its 35-page report, on ISO's scale of 100, the Fire Department was rated for overall fire suppression at 74.3, after being at 80 or above previously.
Three areas were evaluated, including one involving the water supply system, where the city achieved a 1 rating, accounting for 40 percent of the overall ranking formula.
The other two areas rated the department's ability to receive and handle fire alarms, and aspects of the operation of the department itself, which accounted for 50 percent. Both of those rankings came in at a Class 4 level.
The Fire Department lost points for not having unanswered emergency calls hooked up to a business phone number and for not listing a separate business number along with an emergency number in the phone directory. Points were also taken away for low participation in some training exercises, and missing or incomplete records in some areas, including hazardous materials, among other findings. The water system, however, received a near perfect score.
The ISO noted in its report that the details of its scoring analysis “relate only to the fire insurance classification of your jurisdiction. They are not for property loss prevention or life safety purposes and no life safety or property loss recommendations are made.”
A telephone poll of several local insurance company representatives, including those at Nationwide, Shove, and Loiselle, indicated that brokers were either unaware of the ISO ratings drop or hadn't received any information or memos pertaining to any raise in insurance premiums due to this new ranking. Several commented that if insurance rates went up, it was likely due to some other factors, such as a low credit score.
A spokesperson for Narragansett Bay Insurance Company, speaking on a condition of anonymity, said it is unlikely that any ISO ratings drop would effect homeowner insurance rates, unless a municipality suddenly began experiencing numerous losses of property due to an inability to handle fire services, there was a problem with access to the water supply, or some other factor.
Commercial insurance rates are calculated in a different manner, but would still not likely be affected by a one-notch ISO ratings decrease, the spokesperson said.

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