December 13, 2018 10:35:08 AM
Mary Pollitz - [email protected]
Columbus Fire and Rescue now boasts a Class 3 rating from the Mississippi State Rating Bureau, city officials announced in a press conference Wednesday at Regal Hall.
The new rating improves CFR from a Class 4 department and places it among the five highest-rated fire departments in the state. Most notably, the new rating could save city homeowners up to 20 percent on insurance premiums.
Ratings are based on response times, training, available equipment and facilities, record keeping and emergency communication, among other factors.
"When I came (to CFR) in 1987, we stayed a Class 5 until 2012," CFR Chief Martin Andrews said Wednesday. "At that time, I was assistant chief when we went to a 4. Now to become Class 3 under my leadership is just overwhelming. I cannot take credit myself. There are others that have helped us.
"(CFR firefighters) are the driving force," he later added. "They work hard day-in and day-out. They give their life. I love and respect each and every one of them. I'm kind of a different chief. I believe in pushing and pushing and pushing, and I believe in being the best that we can be. We have to be the best we can be at all times for the city of Columbus."
Every five years, the Mississippi State Rating Bureau evaluates fire departments and assigns them a score from 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst.
According to a bureau representative, CFR is now among four Class 3 departments, including Jackson, Biloxi and Southaven. The highest-rated department is Class 2 in Gulfport.
Departments in Starkville and Tupelo remain Class 4.
"My hat is off to Chief Andrews and his staff at Columbus Fire and Rescue," Mayor Robert Smith said. "Because of your intense training, intense skill and intense devotion to do your job, we are protected every day of the year."
Smith said citizens must contact their insurance agents to take advantage of decreased homeowners insurance premiums from the new fire rating. If they don't contact their agent, they may not realize the savings.
How CFR has improved
Since the last CFR review in 2013, the department has become the only nationally accredited municipal fire department in the state, with less than 300 departments accredited nationwide.
Andrews said the Center for Pubic Safety Excellence, a national organization, will review CFR in August for re-accreditation. He largely credits CFR's improvement in the fire rating to its accreditation status.
In addition, CFR has also added a new ladder truck, two medical trucks, a used front-line pumper truck and will get a new pumper truck in 2019 once it has been manufactured. With the additional vehicles purchased and used by CFR, it increased its manpower and accessibility, which included adding 12 new firefighters.
Andrews said his staff has cut its turn-out time -- the time between receiving a call and leaving the station -- in half. Now, if there's a medical emergency call, firefighters are outfitted and in the vehicle in less than 60 seconds. Whenever the station receives a fire call, they are loaded in 90 seconds. In years past, Andrews said, that process would take between two and three minutes.
Improved turn-out time has translated to better overall response times, Andrews said, though he did not provide specifics on that front.
Not only are firefighters getting to destinations quicker, Andrews said, they are arriving with more manpower. Five years ago, a residential fire warranted two fire trucks. Now, Andrews sends four trucks with 15 personnel, while commercial fire responses include five trucks rather than three used in past years.
Andrews, though proud of the new rating, said he is now trying to fine-tune the department to again improve its rating and qualify for national re-accreditation.
"I understand the public might not see and understand exactly what firefighters do," Andrews said. "They work diligently hard. They train and sacrifice themselves. I feel like they are the best bunch of people that I can work with. We are a team. We are certainly proud of the rating we got. But the work has just begun. We will never stop to provide the best service we can."