Belleville leaders hope businesses and homeowners may get lower property insurance rates because the city’s fire protection level will be upgraded as of Aug. 1 but insurance companies said rates would not change immediately.
New Jersey-based Insurance Services Office Inc., which grades the effectiveness of fire departments, dispatch centers and water supply systems across the country, will change Belleville’s rating from a Class 3 to Class 2. This is based on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best score.
This improvement follows an upgrade from Class 4 to Class 3 in 2009 after the city opened a new fire station at the intersection of Illinois 159 and Illinois 15.
So why the latest improvement?
“One of the big things we did is max out our training,” Fire Chief Tom Pour said. “We’ve been working very hard to make sure that we’re spending as much time as possible in training.”
Belleville is one of 917 departments in the country with a Class 2 rating. Pour said the Insurance Services Office, also known as ISO, rates about 50,000 fire departments nationwide.
Pour said city firefighters have an average response time of two minutes to structure fires.
Some businesses in the city were able to see a decrease in their insurance bill after the city’s ISO rating changed in 2009.
“Being a 2 should help some of our businesses and may be even our homeowners,” Mayor Mark Eckert said. “After Aug. 1 when this goes into effect, we would encourage to them to check with their insurance companies because they might be due to capture some savings on their insurance costs.”
“Every company is different,” Pour said. “It will have to be on an individual basis. We’re hoping it has a positive effect.”
Fifty percent of a city’s score is based on the quality of the fire department and personnel, 40 percent is based on the water supply and 10 percent is based on the dispatch center.
Belleville plans to open a new police station and communications center at 720 W. Main St. when the city takes over the Bank of Belleville building and city leaders believe this new dispatch center will help maintain the city’s ISO rating.
Also, Eckert noted the city has been upgrading fire department equipment for the past 10 years and invested in the new firehouse. The city has 63 paid firefighters and four fire stations.
Pour said fire departments with a Class 1 rating have full-time fire prevention bureaus. Belleville firefighters spend a lot of time spreading the fire safety message throughout the year but the department does not have a full-time fire prevention bureau, Pour said.
“I am extremely proud of Chief Pour and Deputy Chief (Bud) Jacobs and the men and women of the fire department because it’s a team effort,” Eckert said. “We’ve demanded excellence and we’re getting it.”
Holly Anderson, a spokeswoman for State Farm, said the new rating “can’t hurt” Belleville customers but she said it would not be a “direct impact” on insurance rates. She said the ISO rating is one of many factors used to calculate what customers pay.
Luis Sahagun, a spokesman for Farmers Insurance, echoed Anderson’s comments. He praised the city for being able to obtain the improved rating.
“Other important factors that influence rates are historical loss trends in a given area, construction and labor costs, the type of construction of the residence and an individual’s loss history,” Sahagun said in a prepared statement.
Insurance Services Office Inc. ratings for fire protection
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best:
Belleville: 2, as of Aug. 1
Collinsville: 4 in the city; 5 in the unincorporated areas that are within five miles of a fire station and 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant. It is 9 in areas that do not meet these requirements.
Columbia: 4 in the city; 9 in rural areas
East St. Louis: 6
East Side: 4
Edwardsville: 4 for most of the city; 9 in rural sections
Fairview Heights: 3
Granite City: 3
Signal Hill: 3