Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Better fire protection brings savings to MAT-

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Thursday, June 29, 2006

MAT-SU—Homeowners in the Wasilla-Lakes Fire Service area can spend a few hundred dollars on something other than home insurance this year. Insurance costs for many in the MAT-SU's largest fire district have dropped, a direct result from the enhanced fire protection rating that was achieved earlier this year.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough resident Chris Drashner said she will be saving $369 a year in insurance premiums. "I put a date on my calendar and called my insurance, and sure enough it's true." Drashner lives behind a fire station off Bogard Road and said she already had a good rate, but the increased fire protection made her good rate better.

Fire officials are predicting that homeowners in the area will save some $7.1 million. Some homeowners of a $200,000 house could save up to $400 per year in reduced insurance premiums. In some cases the savings will be greater than the amount the homeowner pays under the current mill rate for fire protection. Also, four schools in the area could each see a 45 percent savings in insurance costs. And businesses are expected to see savings as well.

"It's an example of effective government," said Borough Manager John Duffy. "The additional services and better coverage are resulting in savings to our citizens."

Wasilla-Lakes Fire Service Area is 150 square miles. It runs west beginning at the Trunk Road corridor and includes the City of Wasilla. The area extends south to Knik-Goose Bay Road and ends at mile six on Point MacKenzie Road.

Assemblywoman Mary Kvalheim lives in the district. "We pay for emergency services through our property taxes. I'm grateful for all the work that's put into this to make sure our businesses and homes are safer. At the same time that we benefit from better services, such good service reduces the cost of living here. All of that is very important," Kvalheim said.

To calculate insurance premiums, virtually all U.S. insurance companies use a rating system from the Insurance Services Office, called an ISO rating. ISO analyzes data such as water supply and fire equipment, then assigns a Public Protection Classification - a number from 1 to 10. Class one means exemplary fire protection, and class 10 means minimal fire protection. The Wasilla-Lakes' rating recently went from a split 4/8B class to a single class 4 rating, a substantial class increase for a fast-growing region that is covered by responders who are called in to an emergency.

Central MAT-SU Fire Chief Jack Krill said the class is just two steps away from Anchorage's class 2 rating, an extraordinary feat. Anchorage responders are full-time employees at stations, while Wasilla-Lakes volunteer responders have other jobs and respond to calls as they get them.

"In Aug. 2005, an ISO field analyst spent two days with me going through all of the vehicles, equipment, and records. He was impressed with how much we had improved in such a relatively short period of time," Krill said in an earlier press release.

Since early 2004, Krill said his department had been appealing a downgrade in its rating. The evaluation this year not only overturned the downgrade, but rewarded the service area with a higher ranking. The different outcome saves property owners $19.6 million.

Under the former rating, the split class meant that all properties within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant received the class 4 rating. Properties farther than 1,000 feet of a hydrant, but within five miles of a fire station received an 8b rating. Now under the new rating, all properties within five miles of a fire station get the class 4 rating. Property owners more than a 1,000 feet away from a hydrant will see the greatest savings in insurance premiums because now there's no distinction.

"We use the FSA (fire service area) funds efficiently with the ISO rating as a benchmark in the level of service we provide," Krill said. "Residents and property owners should know that their dollars are spent very well."

Some changes in the fire service area that brought about the class 4 award include: a new fire engine, a new rescue truck, a temporary fire station, plans for a new training facility, and plans for two new fire stations, one on Fairview Loop in 2008 and one between Mile 12 and Mile 16 of Knik-Goose Bay Road by 2007. The new stations would fill in gaps in fire protection.

"With these two stations, 98 percent of the Wasilla-Lakes FSA will be within five miles of a fire station," Krill said.

ISO also looks at the long term plans of a fire department to ensure they can meet the demands of the community in the future. "We developed a vision for the future along with how we plan to improve fire protection for the service area over the next 20 years. Capital projects and the training complex at mile 7 Knik-Goose Bay Road are critical to the ISO rating, not only for Wasilla-Lakes, but for all of the fire departments in the Borough," Krill said.

The rating became effective June 1, 2006.

For more information, call Chief Jack Krill at (907) 373-8805.