According to Sulphur Fire Chief Dan Selph the department is undergoing evaluation by the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana, PIAL.
In an interview with the Daily News Thursday, Chief Selph said he feels confident the city will maintain its fire rating upon completion. “We’re currently a (class) 2, which we’re very proud of,” he said. The city received a large questionnaire at the end of December, and the department has 45 days to respond.
PIAL is a private association, funded by insurance companies. The ratings they grant fire departments determine property insurance rates. The city’s class 2 rating calls for an evaluation every five years, but departments can be re-evaluated at any time through a random lottery. Departments are rated on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the most desirable.
One area of concern for the department is equipment failure. “We have had a catastrophic failure of two of the mainline pumpers,” Self said. “And it’s looking they have broken beyond repair.”
He said larger cities are generally more able to absorb the loss of two trucks. “But the City of Sulphur is at a size where that’s a large percentage of our frontline trucks,” he explained. “Our response has been affected a little bit.”
PIAL evaluations present departments with a substantial workload. Selph said the SFD employs a full-time research and statistical analyst, who takes care of many of the PIAL requirements, as well as grant writing.
Selph said the PIAL rating has a bigger affect on the commercial property insurance rates than it does on residential rates.
Evaluations cover three years of documentation submitted by crews including check sheets submitted every morning, truck inventory sheets submitted weekly, hose testing and rotation, and hydrant flow testing and inspections, each performed twice a year. Adherence to monthly and annual training requirements and pre-fire plans the department performs on every business annually is verified.
Selph said it’s likely most residents don’t realize that PIAL takes more than just the fire department into consideration, and external factors affect a department’s rating.
A major consideration for PIAL inspectors is a department’s response time. “They actually look at — down to the second — how long it takes you to respond to a fire,” he said.
And, unfortunately, a city’s drivers can and do affect response times. “Whenever people don’t pull over on the side of the road, and they make the fire engine take longer to get there, it literally affects your fire rating,” Self said. “You can be the best firefighter in the state, but if you don’t get to your structure calls in enough time, your rating will be affected.”
Selph advised drivers to pay deference to firetrucks. “When you see a fire engine trying to get to a call in a timely manner, they are racing a clock,” he said.
He recounted a time when, as a firefighter, he fielded two complaints nearly simultaneously. “The property owner said it took me forever to get there, and somebody on the street along the way to the fire, said I was driving too fast.”
They evaluate water infrastructure and water pressure, which is maintained by public works. Extended periods of unprepared water lines affect the rating as well. “The City of Sulphur has always had a good, strong water infrastructure,” he said. “Our water department will deploy at 2 a.m. to fix a water main. They are an excellent asset.”
Currently, Sulphur contracts with E-911 in Lake Charles for communications. “We’re at the mercy of their services, but we get good service from them,” he said.
Selph said he has implemented two new policies since taking on the role of chief in July of 2016:
• He has increased the number of responders to each structure. In the past, only 9 responders were sent in some districts. “We now, when all of our trucks are online, send no fewer than 12, and that directly affects your fire rating,” he said.
• We also get more credit, the more credentialed our personnel are,” he said. “We recently changed policy to stipulate that any individual who holds rank with the Sulphur Fire Department, has to have the corresponding credential to maintain that rank, which gives us extra credit with PIAL,” he said.
Selph said everything the department does throughout the year is done to “be a better, more efficient department” and to comply with the Fire Suppression Rating schedule, including the state’s addendum.
“Speaking for the Sulphur Fire Department, I can say that it’s in our hearts to do good,” said Selph. “We do everything we can to do the best job we can.”