Lexington’s fire protection is now among the best in the country, according to an independent analysis released Tuesday.
The Insurance Service Organization, which measures the effectiveness of fire protection, recently moved Lexington to Class 1, the top category. Only 241 of 46,200 rated fire departments receive that designation. Lexington had been a Class 2 city for more than a decade.
Mayor Jim Gray announced the new rating Tuesday at City Hall.
“We have dramatically, significantly improved Lexington’s fire protection rating,” Gray said. “Only one-half of one percent of the departments nationwide are rated as Class 1 fire departments.”
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The ISO rankings are used by insurance companies to help set insurance rates, said Tom Weber of ISO, who attended Tuesday’s news conference. The ISO ranks cities every four to five years.
The higher rating means some residents and businesses could see a slight decrease in insurance rates, depending on the insurance company and where people live in the city, Fire Chief Kristin Chilton said.
“Businesses are often what will see the biggest change,” Chilton said. “But that depends on the insurance carriers.”
Chilton said she’s proud that the fire department had received the elite status. It took years of city investment in a host of departments to achieve the ratings, she said.
“This is a team effort, and we are lucky to have the division of E911 and Kentucky American Water working with us in Lexington.”
There are eight Class 1 fire departments in Kentucky.
Weber said the independent agency looks at emergency communications, properties’ distance to fire stations and fire hydrants, equipment, public education, and fire prevention. Lexington’s climb to Class 1 was credited to better response time, community service and outreach campaigns, new structures including a training tower, and improvements to the water supply system.
The city opened a new emergency operations center and combined its E911 operations. It also added additional staff to E911 in response to complaints about 911 delays. Kentucky American Water has upgraded its water infrastructure, which is important in fighting fires. Kentucky American Water has 7,000 public hydrants used by the fire department.
Response times for fires in the rural areas of Fayette County have been a concern in the past. In December, 23 horses died at the Mercury Equine Center off Russell Cave Road. The owner of Mercury said it took too long for fire crews to make it to the barn. City officials said at the time that it took 13 minutes for Lexington fire crews to arrive after being dispatched.
Chilton said Tuesday that the Class 1 rating was for the fire department. The rural area, where many horse farms are located, don’t have the same type of fire rating.
“When we get way out into the rural area where we don’t have the water supply that we have in the city, we are never going to be Class 1 protected in the county,” Chilton said.
Chilton said Tuesday that the city will have to work to maintain its Class 1 rating. A fire station in the Eastland Parkway and New Circle Road area is being moved. A new fire station in the Masterson Station area will be added in a few years. A new fire training building was recently built on Old Frankfort Pike.
“This standard is a performance-based standard,” Chilton said after the news conference Tuesday. “Anytime we add a fire station, ... that will decrease the response times.”