“A better ISO score is linked to lower property losses,” said Superior Fire Chief Steve Panger. “That’s a large part of why the fire department is around, to save property.”
By minimizing losses, the department helps businesses that sustain fire damage swing back in operation sooner. Panger pointed to recent fires at Lake Superior Laundry and Swanstrom Tool that resulted in no loss of inventory and mere blips on production schedules. A recent apartment fire along Hughitt Avenue left such little damage that most residents were able to move right back in.
“We’re concentrating on fire losses, keeping them down, and all the good things that come with it,” Panger said.
The Insurance Services Office (ISO) public protection classification rating gives a third-party look at a community’s fire protection services. Panger has focused on that number since before his 2012 swearing-in.
“It’s important for councilors and citizens to have a way to gauge whether we’re doing a good job or not,” Panger said.
ISO gives a fire rating of one to 10, with one being the best. It’s more than a barometer for quality.
“It’s also a way we can save businesses and residents money in a way they don’t necessarily see,” Panger said. Lower ISO ratings equate to lower property insurance rates.
A 1993-94 inspection left Superior Fire Department with a rating of five. The department again earned a five rating in 2010, and the rating of far-flung areas like Kilner Bay, Badger Drive and the Butler Park dove to nine.
“It was going in the wrong direction,” Panger said. “The rating we had was just not acceptable for a professional fire department.”
With attention to detail and the boost of a federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant, the Superior Fire Department trimmed two points off its city fire rating in 2014, snagging a three. Training, a special hose attachment, agreements with volunteer fire departments in Parkland and Superior and the implementation of an automatic call-out to Superior for any fires in that area lowered their number to a three as well.
“That rating puts us ahead of 93.7 percent of fire departments nationwide,” Panger said, and highest in the region.
Duluth and downtown Cloquet also have three ratings, although rural areas of Cloquet rise to seven and nine. Duluth also has a split rating, three in the city and nine in more remote areas.
Panger put a study together on the ISO rating system. He found three areas to improve in — training, the inspection program and staffing. Although the department was getting a lot of training in, firefighters took pains to better document it. The department also joined the North East Training Organization in 2013, banding with other area fire departments to share training and resources like the Cloquet area fire district’s fire tower.
The ISO equation factors in response time and the number of firefighters responding to each call. During 2014, the department had a roster of 40 — 36 firefighters, three battalion chiefs and Panger. Six of those positions were funded through the SAFER grant. The grant sundowns this year, but Panger is already seeking to securing another one.
“It would be helpful if we could get another two years,” he said. In addition to improving the city’s ISO, the SAFER grant helped the city’s bottom line.
“Our budget was $335,853 in the black in 2013 due to SAFER, which has helped to relieve some of the overall budgetary strain the city has been experiencing,” Panger said.
The entire department came together and worked hard to improve the city’s ISO.
“Everyone on the department exceeded their expectations,” Panger said.
As for when residents could see a lowering of their insurance rates, the chief didn’t have a definite date.
“People should be aware it did improve,” Panger said. “It’s something they should ask about.”
Superior earns high marks for fire protection: Learn More