New Le Mars fire rating could trim costs

Friday, January 27, 2012

An effort is underway in Le Mars to trim the cost of property and liability insurance and add another tool to recruit business.

Le Mars Mayor Dick Kirchoff recently signed a letter asking for a new study by the Insurance Service Organization (ISO).

ISO collects information on fire protection throughout the U.S. and assigns a public protection classification number to a community.

An ISO classification number of one is the highest and a classification of 10 is the lowest.

In 1997, Le Mars received an ISO classification of five, said David Schipper, Le Mars fire-rescue chief.

Schipper discussed the city's rating with the Le Mars City Council during a meeting Wednesday to review the proposed 2012-2013 budget, which would begin July 1.

He told the council he'd like the ISO classification number to be three.

"A rating of three would mean cheaper insurance premiums for a business trying to locate here compared to another community," Schipper said. "It would help some of the current businesses in their insurance rates."

Schipper said he's talked with city leaders about bringing people, businesses and jobs to Le Mars.

"When you look at all the other communities that have trails, golf courses, parks and things like that, maybe it might come down to the bottom dollars of less costly insurance to have a business in Le Mars with a great fire department compared to another community," he said.

He told the mayor and council the city's biggest downfall in achieving a higher rating is staffing.

A full-time assistant fire chief position is proposed in the 2012-2013 fire-rescue budget of $350,000. The pay is proposed at $55,000.

In 1997, the city received less than one-third of the total points possible in the staffing portion of the ISO survey for the city's fire protection rating.

"Some of that is the issue of having firefighters available in the daytime," Schipper said.

ISO prefers 12-15 firefighters responding to a fire, he said.

A full-time position is ranked as equal to three volunteers.

"With an assistant chief, that would be three, the chief would be three for a total of six," Schipper said. "We get our normal six to eight firefighters who respond so we'd be in the 12-15 range."

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards require two firefighters to be outside anytime two firefighters are inside a structure.

Schipper said the Le Mars department may only have six firefighters in town during the daytime.

The full-time assistant fire-rescue chief would provide another person for the department during the day when it's difficult to get volunteers or paid on call firefighters to respond, he said.

Staffing would not be the only consideration in an update of the 1997 ISO rating. The fire-rescue department has upgraded equipment in recent years.

"We have a ladder truck that reaches our tallest occupied building and we have pumper trucks that can pump the gallons per minute that are needed for bigger industries," Schipper said.

He cited other considerations for the department's rating including testing and certification programs for fire hose and trucks as well as fire-rescue training.

In addition to the fire department, ISO survey for the classification will review communications, which Schipper said is 911, as well as the water department capabilities and storage capacity.

"I can tell you we'd already be at four and we're striving to be classified as three, but we need the staffing to probably make that three," he said.

The discussion with the city council also addressed how the new position would be paid for.

Of the $55,000 in salary, $50,00 would be new revenue in the fire-rescue budget.

"We're having more fire calls which means we bill for more calls," Schipper said. "We're doing more classes and more programs, plus income from fire inspections."

Businesses have requested fire extinguisher training classes from the Le Mars Fire-Rescue Department to meet OSHA regulations.

There were more than 82 fire extinguisher classes offered last year through the fire-rescue department.

"I like to be able to offer that instead of having them pay a firm outside of Le Mars," Schipper said.

The income in the proposed fire-rescue budget includes $650 which the city of Brunsville pays the Le Mars Fire-Rescue Department because Brunsville does not have a fire department.

The amount is part of township fire revenue of $62,000. Fire service fee income in the budget proposal is $122,000.

"We've increased or doubled our revenue since the 2008-2009 budget year," Schipper said.

Schipper also told the council he does not think a full-time fire department is needed.

"I just need a little help during the day and that's why I'm asking you for support," he said. "We've come in with some extra revenues to try to offset that."

The Le Mars City Council will continue a review of the proposed 2012-2013 budget during a meeting which begins at noon Feb. 7.

Assistant Fire Chief addition

* would improve daytime staffing for insurance rating requirements and OSHA

* would be offset by new revenue sources for city's fire-rescue budget

* would help department respond to an increasing number of calls

* would allow work to continue when the chief is at meetings, training

Source: City of Le Mars 2012-2013 budget proposal

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