Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Big Lake to appeal unfair fire rating

Palmer | Patty Sullivan | Monday, March 27, 2006

District 2 Fire Chief Bill Gamble is appealing what he calls an unfair insurance rating for the Big Lake Fire Service Area. "I welcome the opportunity to address these perceived issues and am confident that the hard work over the years will result in a rating of 8b or better," Gamble said.

Big Lake Fire has two stations, 26 volunteer firefighters, and one new full-time firefighter. The fire service area encompasses 133 square miles (not including the Big Lake water body).

"More than ever I want the residents of Big Lake to be confident and proud of the fire protection services provided by our dedicated volunteers who train hard and respond at all hours, day in and day out," Gamble said. Mat-Su Borough Director of Emergency Services Dennis Brodigan said the proposed rating does not accurately reflect the effort in Big Lake. "If you read the evaluation you'd scratch your head," Brodigan said "The final rating shows that they gave us zero points for water supply, yet we have tankers at every station with a minimum of 2,000 gallons of water.

To give us a zero for water supply makes absolutely no sense. "The same type of error happened in nearby Wasilla-Lakes Fire Service Area in 2003 with surprising results. After it appealed, the Wasilla Area received an upgrade that will ultimately save property owners $12.5 million in insurance premiums.

From the Big Lake appeal, Gamble expects, if not an upgrade, at least the same rating because the fire area has mobilized new equipment and promoted training. To calculate insurance premiums, virtually all U.S. insurance companies use a rating system from the Insurance Services Office, called an ISO rating. ISO analyzes data such as water supply and fire equipment, then assigns a Public Protection Classification - a number from 1 to 10. Class one means exemplary fire protection, and class 10 means minimal fire protection. While the appeal is being addressed, the present insurance rating will stay in place, that of 8b/10. Property owners within five miles of the fire station receive an 8b, farther than five miles from a station is a 10. An 8b rating is standard for a rural fire department. Director Brodigan said that Big Lake Fire Service Area has been rated an 8b for years.

What's new, however, is an increase in resources at Big Lake, he said. New airpacks, new bunker gear or clothing, and the latest technology such as thermal imaging cameras to augment the existing fire protection program. Additionally, Big Lake has one of only two engines in Alaska that has an enclosed engineer station so a firefighter in below zero temperatures can work inside a heated area.

Brodigan also disputes the manpower shortage. "The ISO survey indicates we didn't respond with at least an average of four people on every structure fire call; that's not accurate," Brodigan said. "This may be similar to what happened at Wasilla-Lakes Fire Service Area after their ISO survey. It may be more a documentation problem than an actual deficiency.