PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY — Property owners may get a nice surprise on their insurance bills after the Santa Monica Fire Department received high marks for the quality of its fire protection.

ISO, a company that gathers information about insurance risk, gave the SMFD its highest rating, a designation that could drive down insurance costs for property owners.

ISO uses its Public Protection Classification Program (PPC) to rank the 46,000 fire departments it inspects on a scale from one to 10 based on the quality of fire protection that they provide.

A one designation represents top-notch protection, and a 10 means that there was effectively no fire protection provided.

Less than 1 percent of fire departments in the nation qualify for an ISO rating of 1, said Santa Monica Deputy Fire Chief Bruce Davis.

“It’s a huge feather in our cap for the department and the city. The city is what supports us, and gives us time to do our training, personnel, the water system that we have. It’s the [City] Council and the community that supports that and makes that happen.”

The rating impacts insurance rates because companies evaluate their rates based on how much risk there is to a property. Better fire protection means less risk, which can lower insurance costs.

However, insurers use a variety of different tools to assess risk, of which ISO’s rating is only one, said Peter Moraga of the Insurance Information Network of California, a nonprofit media relations group for the property and casualty insurance industry.

The new ranking moves SMFD from a two to a one. When ISO came out to rank the department in 2010, it missed the top spot by just 1.73 points.

It was frustrating, Davis said, but fire fighters took a step back to look at where they needed work and set about fixing the problems.

ISO calculates its rankings on three categories that are worth different weights, Moraga said.

That first category is the strength of the emergency telephone system including technology, operators, supervision and staffing, which is worth 10 percent of the overall score.

The quality of the water system, including the pressure that comes out of fire hydrants, accounts for 40 percent of the score, and the fire department constitutes the remaining 50 percent.

SMFD focused on the changes it could make to its own internal processes, specifically adding new equipment to its engines and updating its data system to improve its record keeping.

Then, they invited ISO inspectors back.

The department already beats the required 6-minute-20-second average response time to fires by almost a minute. On average, a SMFD unit will be on scene within 5 minutes and 30 seconds of a distress call.

It’s good news at a time when local news agencies are reporting severe dispatch delays within the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Within three or four months, SMFD will have new decals for its rigs to show off the rating.

Despite its success, the department will find other areas in which it can improve, said SMFD Chief Scott Ferguson.

“We endeavor to continue to improve,” he said. “We’re not resting on our laurels.”

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