Berkeley Fire Department was the only city in Alameda County to receive a Class 1 rating, the highest possible classification for fire suppression efforts.
The rating was given by the Insurance Services Office, a private advisory organization that evaluates municipal fire protections for insurance purposes through its Public Protection Classification program. The PPC program provides a nationwide standard that helps fire departments with planning and budgeting. Insurance companies use the findings to adjust policy premiums.
Berkeley now joins the ranks of 14 cities throughout California with the highest rating. The ISO evaluated departments according to their efficacy in first-alarm fire suppression, city’s water supply, emergency response staff and training.
Generally, the higher the rating, the lower the cost of fire insurance within that city. Many of these categories have seen improvements in Berkeley over the past decade because of ballot measures.
“This is an excellent example of how community support and investment for the fire department has paid off,” said Interim Fire Chief Avery Webb in a press release.
After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the 1991 Berkeley-Oakland hills fire, the city of Berkeley realized it had concerns about the domestic water system and no plans to remedy them.
In response, Berkeley citizens approved bond Measure G in 1992, which funneled $55 million toward implementing a better fire protection system. Measure G went toward making six of the seven fire stations seismically safe and began plans to create an above-ground water system.
In 2000, citizens approved Measure Q, which provided funds for a mobile water-supply system: an alternate water source in the case that domestic water supply is cut. The measure funded two pump trucks, 6 miles of 12-inch hoses and containers to hold water.
According to former deputy fire chief David Orth, who worked during his tenure to implement the water system, the truck pumps can easily bring water from the Marina to the foot of the Berkeley campus as well as to other areas in Berkeley. Orth said that when he was chief, Berkeley was rated as a Class 2 city.
In 2008, Berkeley voters passed Measure GG, a special tax that collects $4 million annually to help the fire department maintain staff levels, upgrade equipment on all first-response vehicles, hire training personnel to prepare emergency responders and improve communications equipment.
“The staff has worked very hard to make this happen, and they want to make Berkeley as safe as possible in the event of a fire, so it’s really a testament to their work,” said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. “This is something residents are interested in and supportive of, and it wouldn’t be possible without them.”
According to Chakko, this rating will minimally affect insurance costs and is more of a reflection of the fire department and community.
City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he has continually been impressed by the fire department, which has been advocating funding to make these improvements.
“To be in the top 14 in the state of California is just an incredible accomplishment,” Worthington said. “Everyone at the fire department should be proud.”
Contact Jamie Nguyen at [email protected].