East Pierce Fire and Rescue improves protection ratings

After a tumultuous few months of failed levies and slashed budgets, a shift in the winds may be coming for East Pierce Fire and Rescue constituents.

“I have some good news for you tonight,” said Fire Chief Jerry Thorson, who presented at the Bonney Lake City Council meeting March 24. “Every fire district in the state of Washington is rated by the Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau and the insurance industry uses that to set your fire insurance rates…. I’m happy to say in all but two of our jurisdictions, we improved and have a lower rating number now.”

Thorson said the improved rating may mean lower insurance rates for people covered by East Pierce.

The Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau rates communities in four categories; water supply, the fire department, emergency communications and fire safety control, according to Thorson.

The Bureau rates communities every five to 10 years.

Letters from the bureau were sent to the mayors and officials of Bonney Lake, South Prairie, Sumner, Edgewood, Milton and unincorporated Pierce County communities on March 19 announcing the new protection classifications.

The lower the classification number, the better the rating. The rating scale is from one to 10, with one being the best rating the bureau can give. In Bonney Lake, the protection classification number improved from five to four.

South Prairie saw an improvement from seven to five.

Sumner remained a four and Edgewood remained a five, although Thorson said it improved from a high five to a low five.

Milton saw an improvement from six to four, and unincorporated parts of Pierce County saw an improvement from five to four.

According to East Pierce, 13 percent of all communities in the state receive a class four rating, and 19 percent receive a class five rating.

While Thorson said he is still trying to figure out how much savings these improvements could mean for commercial and residential insurance holders, the bureau encourages residents to contact their insurance agents to determine how this could affect their insurance premiums.

“This really shows the fire district is successful in giving the best service possible,” Thorson said after the council meeting.

Tempered news

While the improved protection classes may mean lower premiums, not all the news is positive. Because $3.2 million was cut from the departments budget when the maintenance and operations levy failed to gather a supermajority of votes in August and November 2014, the good ratings may be temporary.

“Unfortunately, several of the items that helped provide improved classifications have been cut due to budget restraints,” Thorson said in a press release.

Thorson said if the department isn’t able to increase their budget, restore public education programs, staffing levels and firefighter and EMS training in the near future, the department could change the rating by the Washington Survey and Rating Bureau in a few years.

This could negatively affect insurance premiums.

“The report confirms what we have been saying,” Thorson said the press release. “Low staffing levels, aging fire engines and medic units and deferred maintenance will eventually affect our ability to provide adequate fire protection. A community’s investment in fire mitigation is a proven and reliable predictor of future fire loss.”

Reach Ray Still at rstill@courierherald.com or 360-825-2555 ext. 5058. Follow him on Twitter @rayscottstill for more news, pictures and local events.