Friday, November 2, 2007

United Fire and Rescue District Jumps a Class; Donation for Vision Goggles Presented to United Fire

Loparex, represented by Hammond Plant Manager Michael Stang, presented a check for $1,500 to Todd Criego, Assistant Chief of the Hammond Station of United Fire and Rescue for purchase of "smoke vision goggles" which are used to "see" objects by the heat radiating from them in dense smoke.

Investment in equipment, water utilities and training over many years have paid off for United Fire and Rescue.

The local fire department which includes stations in Woodville, Baldwin and Hammond has received an improved fire rating from the Insurance Service Office, or ISO, which may pay off in better insurance premium rates, especially for commercial properties.

According to United Fire Chief Reid Berger, Baldwin's and Hammond's fire ratings have improved to three from four; and Woodville's has improved to a four from five.

"I want to give the credit to the people who deserve it," said Berger, citing the people who run the consolidated fire department, including chiefs and assistant chiefs at each station, firefighters, and the people who sit on the fire board and village and town boards. He said the nearly 80 firefighters of the three stations and the on-going training is an important reason for the success of the department. Training is both in-house and from WITC.

Berger said the class three rating for Hammond and Baldwin are ones of only a few for communities of their size and some of the neighboring towns have ratings of five or six. The fire rating systems goes from a one, the best, to a ten. Gary Newton, chief of the Baldwin Station of United Fire, said many volunteer departments, like United Fire, are rated seven or eight.

According to Newton the ISO rating is based 50% on the grade for the fire department; 40% on the water system that serves it; and 10% on training and communication of the department. "The emphasis is put on training and the ability to get out and deliver the water," he said.

Newton said an ISO inspector, Jim Murphy, spent more than a week's time in the spring and summer in the three communities and surrounding area surveying water systems, reviewing past fire calls and equipment that went out and training records. Included in the survey was detailed inspections of water utility systems and water flows.

Berger said the new ratings may not have much effect for existing business, although in some cases they may result in lower rates. However, he noted that the better rating makes fire insurance coverage cheaper for new commercial enterprises and may make the communities more attractive for new business. "The rate may be an incentive for a new business to locate
here," he said.

Rick Houston, chief of the Woodville Station, said that in some cases the new rates may have an impact on residential insurance rates, also.

Rural locations are under a separate rating system based on how much water can be brought to the location. And Newton said Inspector Murphy did go out to each town served by United Fire and determined how much water could be brought to locations. Miles to a fire department or station is sometimes important in ratings, said Newton, so having three stations for United Fire has proved to be important.

Berger said Bill Peavey, secretary for United Fire, was instrumental in orchestrating the rating improvement because he compiles data and keeps all the department's records.

Berger noted that when he started as chief of the Baldwin Fire Department in the late 1970s the department had a seven rating. The consolidation process started in 1994 informally at first with all three department responding with mutual aid to each other's calls without specific calls for aid. He said the merger was based on Chippewa Falls' merger and involved discussions for two or three years before it was finally put in place. Elliott Stene of Woodville and Norman George and Duane Larson of Hammond were instrumental in the final merger that emerged.

Berger offered his thanks to everyone who helps United Fire and the achievement of the improved rating system: from the members and villages and towns that support it to the people who help fundraise and donate to the department. "It's a team and it all comes together," he said.