Fire dept. downgrade on hold
An insurance rating organization has dropped any immediate plans to downgrade the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, and will reconsider the matter in a half year.The Insurance Services Office (ISO) responded positively to planned department changes outlined in an attempt to head off the reclassification. The revision could have resulted in much higher premiums for property owners whose insurance companies rely on ISO’s rating service.”We are pleased to hear that you have already taken steps to make the necessary improvements in your response of personnel to structurally related fires as well as other vital areas,” ISO analyst Derrick Thomas said in a letter to the city.ISO had previously threatened Glenwood with a downgrade from a 4 to a 10, its worst rating. Its chief concern was the department’s inability to respond with a minimum of four firefighters to structure fires.In a May 26 letter, fire chief Mike Piper outlined numerous changes planned by the department to address the staffing shortage and other issues. The city already has been working aggressively to boost part-time, or reserve, firefighters. It also plans to try to revive its volunteer program, eventually expanding volunteer numbers to 18, from two now.It is seeking a grant to help pay for three more full-time firefighters, and also is reviewing response protocols to emergency calls to help maximize staffing on fires.ISO plans to review the city’s progress in six months.”If the changes and improvements indicated in your letter have been implemented or are well underway then no reclassification action will be taken by this office,” Thomas wrote.City Manager Jeff Hecksel said he plans to update City Council each month about the progress the department is making.He is happy to hear ISO is backing off, although he has maintained all along that he always has felt the city deserved a 4 rating based on ISO’s own criteria.But Hecksel said he understands ISO’s concerns and doesn’t want to downplay them. And the changes being planned are significant for reasons going beyond ISO, he said.”ISO is important but the level of service that people get is more important than that,” he said.Glenwood Springs attorney Tim Thulson said he and others who have been following the ISO issue are greatly relieved at the agency’s response to the city’s plans.Thulson co-owns a downtown office building and has clients who also were concerned about the possible downgrade. Some property owners were facing the threat of their rates doubling or even tripling, he said. Worse yet, some feared they wouldn’t be able to get insurance at all.Now it’s crucial that the city follow through on its plan, he said.”I think it definitely needs to be bird-dogged to make sure that occurs,” Thulson said.He praised Mayor Bruce Christensen and City Council member Joe O’Donnell for their efforts to address ISO’s concerns.Thulson remains frustrated that the city had mostly done away with its volunteer force over the years.While promising to try to re-establish a strong volunteer component, Piper also has voiced doubts about the chances of successfully recruiting and retaining volunteers.Thulson believes council members, at least, are sincere in their desire to revive the volunteer numbers.”I think if the fire chief is not sincere, I think he probably does that at his risk,” Thulson said.
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