By NATHAN GREGORY
Starkville officials announced Tuesday that the city’s fire protection rating has improved from a Class 5 to a Class 4 after a July inspection by the Mississippi State Ratings Bureau.
The rating boost will provide a reduced insurance cost for local commercial and industrial businesses and Mississippi State University, Starkville Fire Department Chief Rodger Mann said.
This is the first time the city has received an improved fire protection rating since it received Class 5 status in 1985.
The rating boost was dependent on Starkville’s performance in four areas. The city’s water supply and fire department capabilities each counted for 39 percent of the overall rating. Starkville’s emergency 911 services made up 9 percent of the score. The remaining 13 percent was assessed to fire safety control, which entails how recent the city’s building codes are and its enforcement of those codes and standards. In May, the Starkville Board of Aldermen adopted the 2011 National Electric Code and the 2012 International Code Council standards and will begin enforcing them in 2013.
State Farm insurance agent Jack Forbus said this rate reduction will also affect apartment complexes.
“Commercial (structures are) going to be affected somewhere on average around 7, maybe 8 percent. That’s a pretty significant reduction on your premium. On a $10,000 payment that’s $700 It will not affect any rolling stock … only structures that are commercial in the city,” Forbus said. “I don’t think it’s going to affect any of the one-story, one-family rental units. That’s considered a dwelling, therefore the dwellings don’t get them. Apartments are going to be covered for this. That’s more money going back into the city.”
Mann said the result was a culmination of work from the city’s public services department, planning staff and previous SFD administrations.
“This really started in the 1990s (when) Chief (Willie) Johnson started looking at areas where the fire department could better serve the citizens of Starkville. He decided (a Class 4) rating was something we could achieve, knowing it could take some time. One of the first moves he made that has turned out to be very critical was he expanded our inspection division,” Mann said. “As a payoff to that … it has helped us on the lowering of our fire rating, but it has also helped us in our enforcement of codes and it has directly led to the reduction of the number of structure fires we have. We have better code enforcement, thus buildings are built better, thus less fires. He got us a good hydrant program going.
“Chief (William) Grantham came along and picked the ball up,” he added. “He got us going down the road with better truck maintenance records. Both of them had a tremendous amount of impact on this. My administration just picked up from where theirs left off and kept pushing the ball further down the road. Fortunately, we were able to get it across the line to secure a Class 4 rating.”
MSRB Superintendent of Public Protection Ty Windham said a number of factors came into play which helped boost the city’s rating.
“We went in and reevaluated everything. They’ve hired more firefighters for their trucks and have a new training facility that helped (the rating). They’ve built Fire Station No. 5, and we gave partial credit for that station,” Windham said. “The building codes and enforcement seem to be pretty good. They’ve gotten credit for updating their code. One improvement was their elevated tank. We ran some flows and the pressure has increased.”
Windham said in order to maintain a Class 4 rating, SFD needs to have Station No. 5 in operation full time. The station is currently open every third day.
Mann said Starkville Public Services Director Doug Devlin and City Planner Ben Griffith have played an integral role in achieving the rating.
“It’s called a fire rating but there are other departments share equally in this. The water department has just as big a stake in this as we do. Doug Devlin and his crew have been the easiest people to work with that I’ve ever seen,” Mann said. “I’ve never seen the water department so easy to work with as they are at this point in time. If you want to try to work on getting some newer codes developed, Ben is always for it.”
Mayor Parker Wiseman said the rating change marks a significant event for the city.
“This effectively means that the city of Starkville offers as safe of an environment from a fire protection standpoint as you will find throughout the state. That should provide comfort and actually will provide the opportunity for insurance savings,” Wiseman said. “For potential businesses and residents alike in the future, the comfort of knowing that this is an extremely safe community from a fire protection standpoint should offer a lot of reason to consider building a structure in this community in the future, and that bodes very well for us.”
Mann said continued efforts between the city departments can eventually result in the city improving to a Class 3 rating.
“As long as we’re able to get the key departments to keep working together as we have in the past four or five years, we can do a (Class 3),” Mann said. “It’s going to take time and it will take a lot of out-of-the-box thinking.
“Just because we’ve got the (Class 4), I don’t want to sit on my laurels,” Mann added. “I want to start toward a (Class 3). We will not get to the (Class 3) during my time, but the further I can push the ball down the road, the shorter distance the next guy has to push the ball down the road. That’s the mind set Chief Johnson and Chief Grantham had which set me up, so now it’s my job to set the next guy up.”