CEDAR FALLS — Cedar Falls city officials Monday hailed a decision by a national insurance group to keep the city’s fire safety rating at 3, in the top 3.5% of fire departments in the state.
In December, news broke the city could have that rating lowered by the Insurance Service Office, or ISO, a third-party organization that determines safety ratings for cities around the United States. ISO ratings impact insurance rates for residential and commercial properties. A higher number can mean higher rates.
ISO held a second evaluation of Cedar Falls after originally considering dropping its rating to a 4. ISO gave the city a chance to make improvements to retain its level 3 classification. After the re-evaluation, the city maintained its 3 rating, held since 2011.
“We want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for the community, and we’re thrilled with this rating,” said Public Safety Director Jeff Olson.
ISO is part of Verisk Analytics, a private corporation that collects data on fire departments and rates their fire suppression capabilities. The 100-point scale has 10 classifications, a 10 being the worst and a 1 best in each category.
The city submitted new information to ISO in February. ISO renews ratings about every five years.
“It took awhile for them to analyze the information and re-evaluate it,” said Fire Chief John Bostwick. “It gave us an opportunity to re-evaluate some of the training opportunities and make sure that we were doing the things we needed to do.”
When news the score might fall broke, Scott Dix, Cedar Falls Fire Local 1366 president, accused the city of attempting to withhold the information from its citizens. Dix has frequently criticized the city’s Public Safety Officer program.
More than four years ago Cedar Falls began cross-training police officers as public safety officers, a move met by objections from the firefighters union. There are 42 certified PSOs working in the police department and eight PSOs in the fire department. Since September nine full-time firefighters have left, several citing safety concerns. Dix has worked to prevent more PSOs from being hired. He wants the city to hire more full-time firefighters.
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“They’ve changed the actual use of the PSOs,” Dix told The Courier in November. “They were supplemental, auxiliary. Now they’ve simply decided they’re no longer going to hire firefighters.”
ISO surveys more than 1,600 fire departments in Iowa and more than 46,000 fire protection areas across the United States and rates them based on nationally recognized standards developed by the National Fire Protection Association, according to a news release from Cedar Falls.
“We’re very excited to a be a 3 and in the top 3.5% of fire departments in the state,” said Mayor Jim Brown. “My hats off to the staff, Director Olson, Chief (John) Bostwick and other staff that put these numbers together. It’s very good that we have what I consider the ultimate third party coming in analyzing what we’re doing as whole and coming back with that kind of score.”
Brown said the rating vindicates the city after criticism of the public safety officer program.
With the addition of PSOs the city has increased the number of firefighters on duty from six to more than 10 at any given time, Olson said. “(ISO) counts public safety officers,” Olson said. “They certainly recognize that increased staffing level.”
For Bostwick and Olson, it was their first time submitting information to ISO. The learning process led to some changes in training. For instance, ISO pushes cities to use regional training centers like the one in Waterloo.
“We had opted to do our house burns and didn’t go there,” Olson said. “Well, (ISO) said you can get a lot of points for going to the regional training center. So that’s something we’re going to do annually now.”
On June 24, the city will open its new public safety building for public tours. The building acts as the centerpiece of the Public Safety Model.
“When you have a fire truck parked at that station, like right now we have investigators downstairs, they can jump on a truck and respond to a call, which is something we can’t do now,” Olson said. “So in my eyes this public safety model is working.”