State bureau ups Blaine’s fire safety rating

Published on Wed, Aug 15, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Blaine residents and business owners could see a decrease in their fire insurance premiums after North Whatcom Fire and Rescue officials (NWFR) reported improvements in the city’s fire rating.

After months of in-depth analysis into NWFR’s personnel, equipment and operations, the Washington Surveying and Ratings Bureau has improved Blaine’s fire rating from six to four, NWFR fire chief Ron Anderson said. The rating is on a scale from one to 10, with one representing a community with something similar to one fully staffed fire station every few blocks and 10 being an area with no fire protection, Anderson explained.

“In Blaine’s case, it’s pretty substantial to drop two full classifications,” Anderson said.

The new fire rating takes effect on December 1 of this year. Speaking at the August 13 Blaine City Council meeting, Anderson said the new rating could potentially lower resident and business owner fire insurance premiums by 5 to 10 percent, though he was wary of giving exact figures.

More NWFR full-time personnel added to stations in the Blaine area and upgrades in the city’s water system are the main reasons for the improvement, Anderson said. Blaine’s fire department, for example, was mainly staffed by volunteers until a series of district mergers culminating in the current NWFR makeup allowed more full-time firefighters to be stationed in Blaine.
“Each one of the mergers has brought new assets to the table,” Anderson said.

During the rating process, which occurs every 10 years, the state surveying and ratings bureau scrutinizes all aspects of a fire district’s operations, including number of stations, personnel and fire engines and equipment. Ratings officials also test fire hoses, hydrants and other components of a district’s water supply, which Anderson said is responsible for 50 percent of a district’s score.

“It’s a very in-depth look at your fire department,” Anderson said.

Anderson cited water supply as one of the main reasons NWFR’s districtwide rating did not improve from a five. The district covers an extensive rural area in central Whatcom County near Lynden, and Anderson said the water supply is not as reliable out there as it is in the Blaine and Birch Bay areas.

“You can have the best fire department in the world, but if you don’t have water supply, it doesn’t do any good,” Anderson said.
Ratings officials also found an issue with the amount of time NWFR firefighters spend traveling to emergencies, Anderson said. The district has 13 stations in its coverage area, with four of them staffed 24 hours a day, two part-time and the remainder staffed by volunteers.

Anderson said ratings officials did not count five of the NWFR stations in the district’s score because they felt the stations did not have sufficient fire crews responding from them. NWFR has until the rating becomes final on December 1 to show sufficient personnel can respond from these stations, and Anderson said he was confident district staff will be able to do that.

Even though the entire district, which also covers the Birch Bay area, did not see a rating improvement, Anderson said the current rating and the city of Blaine’s upgrade are numbers to be proud of.

“There’s far more positive coming out of this rating than negative,” he said.