With a newly-earned Class 1 fire rating from the Insurance Services Organization (ISO), West Memphis is now part of an elite group among U.S. cities. The Eastern Arkansas town is one of only 60 municipalities in the country with a Class 1, and one of only two in Arkansas, along with Searcy.
Since 1971, ISO has been a leading source of information about property and casualty insurance risk. The organization uses its Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS) to evaluate municipal fire protection in communities around the country. Class 1 represents the best public protection, and Class 10 indicates no recognized protection.
According to Fire Chief Wayne Gately, the rating is the culmination of a focus that started almost 25 years ago during the administration of former Mayor Keith Ingram, now a State Senator. The city’s score went from a 5 to a 3 in 1990 and then to a 2 in 2007.
“One guy can’t do it by himself,” Gately said. “Everybody cooperates. The Fire Department pushes to get improved ratings scores, but we can’t do it alone and the fire chief can’t do it alone.”
Only 50 percent of the final score is based on a fire department’s capacity and capability – trucks, equipment and training – Gately said. Ten percent is tied to the staffing, technology and call volume of the central dispatch center, which in the case of West Memphis is the police department. The remaining 40 percent is based on the water system, Gately said.
Gately’s tenacity has certainly paid off.
“My number one goal when I took this position in 2010 was to get the city to a Class 1 rating,” he said. “I gave us six years to do it. But we did it in just under four.”
The rating brings more than bragging rights and a heightened sense of safety. Frank Martin, the city’s Financial Director, said the city’s fire insurance bill dropped by half from last year to this year as a result of the new rating.
And since companies use ISO ratings to determine risk for property they own or are considering acquiring, the rating is another attractive economic development selling point.
“Our new ISO rating guarantees businesses located in West Memphis the lowest possible fire insurance premiums, plain and simple,” said Ward Wimbish, West Memphis Economic Development Director. “When you add those savings to low taxes and utility rates, the potential savings for new or relocating businesses are more attractive than ever.”