Changes in manned fire substations and grading criteria improve risk scores, affecting insurance rates

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - A 2017 review of emergency services provided by Scappoose Fire District and Columbia River Fire and Rescue has resulted in upgraded Insurance Service Office ratings for many areas of Columbia County, which could decrease fire insurance rates. The Deer Island substation was improved during the review process when CRFR was able to purchase a Type 1 fire engine to reside at the station permanently. Fire protection ratings in parts of Columbia County have improved, thanks to a recent review of services by an agency that grades areas based on the availability of emergency resources.

Residents living within Columbia River Fire and Rescue and Scappoose Fire District boundaries could see an improvement in fire insurance rates starting in March after both agencies received upgraded ratings in a 2017 review by the Insurance Services Office.

ISO is a private company that rates fire protection districts based on the availability of fire department resources, water systems in the area, and connectivity to emergency communication centers. Scores are calculated and then provided to insurance companies to be used as risk evaluation criteria.

ISO routinely rates specific areas every 10 years, but will also conduct a review of services on request every five. CRFR Division Chief Eric Smythe said the ISO reviews were requested for Scappoose and Columbia River fire districts, which had last been reviewed in 2009 and 2012, respectively.

"That will be huge for Deer Island, Goble, Fernhill," Smythe said of the new ratings.

ISO scores are awarded on a 1 to 10 scale, with 1 being the top score a geographic area can receive. A score of 10 means an area does not have fire protection and will often result in the highest insurance rate.

The results of a previous ISO review rated some areas of Scappoose, Deer Island, Goble and Fern Hill at 10.

Over the past two years, both fire districts worked to staff several outlying stations in Chapman, Holbrook, Deer Island and Fernhill with volunteer crews and firefighting equipment in an effort to have them recognized as active stations.

Additionally, ISO changed its policy for how ratings are applied. Previously, ISO ratings could vary within a city — certain areas could have poor ratings, while others could be rated high. Now, the entire district receives a grade applicable to all areas.

Previously, pockets of Scappoose received a range of ratings. With the most recent assessment, the entirety of the Scappoose Fire District, including residents who live within five miles of a recognized fire station, is rated level 3. The previous top rating in Scappoose was a 4.

The CRFR district is rated 4, an improvement for some, but a static change for many. No areas in St. Helens were previously rated higher than a 4.

In 2016, several Deer Island residents expressed concern that a previous ISO rating review was driving up insurance rates and left the residents feeling unprotected and cheated. Tammy Maygra was one of the most outspoken. She repeatedly requested that CRFR re-equip the Deer Island station.

"I appreciate the 'new' leadership in the CRFR and the work they did to get our sub-station back at Deer Island ... Now we can have the same coverage in fire protection and costs as the other people in the district," Maygra stated in an email to the Spotlight.

During the review process, CRFR purchased a Type 1 fire engine to be permanently housed at the Deer Island substation. SFD also purchased new equipment for stations in Chapman and Holbrook.

The new ISO ratings will go into effect March 1.

Property owners should contact their insurance companies at that time to inquire about rate changes.

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