CEDAR FALLS — The city of Cedar Falls is under threat of having its ISO rating, which impacts insurance rates for property owners, lowered from a 3 to a 4.
But the city has been working throughout 2018 to keep the rating as is.
The Insurance Service Office informed Cedar Falls it is prepared to drop the rating, but has given the city until February to make improvements to retain its level 3 classification.
The ISO is part of Verisk Analytics, a private corporation that collects data on fire departments and assigns a numerical rating based on a city’s fire suppression capabilities. It is based on a 100-point scale with 10 classifications, a 10 being the worst and a 1 being the best.
ISO ratings impact insurance rates for residential and commercial properties. A higher number could mean higher insurance rates.
It is ammunition for the Cedar Falls firefighters union, which opposes the city’s Public Safety Officer program and wants more full-time firefighters hired rather than cross-trained police/fire officers.
“Hopefully, the citizens can see how hiring more professional firefighters increases the city’s ISO rating at less than half the cost of hiring more PSOs,” said Scott Dix, Cedar Falls Fire Local 1366 president.
He accused the city of attempting to withhold the information from its citizens. He said the city has known about the possible lower rating for 10 months.
“On several occasions, citizens have asked about the city’s ISO rating with almost no reply to their questions by the city’s public safety officials or Mayor (Jim) Brown,” Dix said. “They clearly knew about the lowered rating but did not want to disclose it to the public.”
Dix called it another example of the city not wanting residents to find out the truth concerning the public safety program.
“Cedar Falls city officials are willing to either ignore the citizens’ questions or answer with half truths that paint an entirely different picture than the reality of the situation,” Dix said. “Cedar Falls citizens should be concerned that they are not being told vital information that affects their safety and the cost of their insurance.”
Fire Chief John Bostwick contends releasing information earlier would have been conjecture because the rating is in flux.
“As we have gone through this year we put into place all of these systems to address the issues that ISO suggested that we make,” Bostwick said. “It would be our preference to put out something that’s the final product.”
Jeff Olson, director of public safety services, said a 4 is still a good rating. He said the city was at a 4 rating until 2011 when it climbed to 3.
Bostwick said the city would be happy with either rating.
Rural resident Darren Yoder submitted a Freedom of Information request for all of Cedar Falls’ correspondence with the Insurance Service Office from Jan. 1 to Nov. 8.
According to the email correspondence, the city identified seven areas — telecommunications, engine companies, ladder service, deployment analysis, company personnel, training and inspections and flow testing — it could improve for a better score.
The city said the potential lower rating is a result of miscommunication with ISO.
“Part of (the lower score) was from us not providing them some data,” Olson said.
Olson said information the city provided to ISO understated staffing levels.
“Then later on what we learned is you frequently have more than your minimum,” Olson said. “It didn’t include any of our PSOs or alternative staff.”
PSOs are considered by ISO as half a firefighter.
Training was another issue. The city frequently uses controlled burns instead of simulations, such as those provided at the Waterloo Fire Training Center.
“We were surprised to learn that they would rather you go to the Waterloo training facility instead of burning a house down,” Olson said. “To me burning a house is pretty good training.”
In the email correspondence, ISO offered to give the city a chance to retain its rating.
Darin Cabalona, community mitigation analyst, who The Courier couldn’t reach for comment, was the primary ISO official communicating with the city.
The revisions by the city are sufficient to improve its score to a class better than 4, Cabalona said in an email. The improvements need to be in place by Feb. 27 for the score to stay the same.
“I have not been through the evaluation process before and look forward to learning and improving our score,” Bostwick said in an email with ISO. The evaluation is done every five years.
The city earned its lowest marks for training and company personnel, and its highest score was for water supply.
“I think because we had to go through this process of redoing it, I think it allowed us better opportunities to get better at what we’re doing,” Bostwick said. “If we had done well at the beginning we may not have been as focused as we are today.”