On February 3, 1998, the City of Hattiesburg and the Hattiesburg Fire Department received a Class 4 fire rating from the Mississippi State Rating Bureau – a rating it maintained for 22 years, spanning three mayors and five fire chiefs.
Recently, the city learned it had earned a Class 3 rating, resulting in potential savings to businesses and homeowners on insurance rates – and putting Hattiesburg among eight total departments in Mississippi to hold such a rating. The announcement – which marks the first time Hattiesburg has ever held a Class 3 rating – was made at a July 30 news conference by Mayor Toby Barker and members of the fire department.
“Two years ago, our fire chief, Sherrocko Stewart, challenged our city and our department to take the next step, to try and achieve a Class 3 fire rating,” Barker said. “Chief Stewart issued that challenge and asked for it to be done in four years.
“I’m pleased today to announce that in less than two years after he issued that challenge, the city is now, for the first time, a Class 3 fire rated community. This new rating took effect on July 14, and notice went out on July 20 to insurance companies across the state to notify them of the step forward Hattiesburg had taken.”
Fire ratings are ranked on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the best and 10 the worst, depending on how well-equipped the fire departments are. Generally, a 1 rating means superior fire protection, while a 10 rating means the fire department did not meet standards from the Insurance Services Office.
Classification depends on factors such as water supply, emergency communications, fire prevention code, public fire safety education programs and fire investigations.
“We were pleased with the (previous rating), but we knew we could do more for the City of Hattiesburg,” Stewart said. “We had a vision to make this department the premier fire department in the Gulf South.
“As of July 14, 2020, we took a huge step in reaching that goal. This shows how this administration has bonded to work together to work on one common goal, and that’s to make the City of Hattiesburg the best city in the state of Mississippi.”
To be ranked anything other than a Class 10, a municipality or district must meet several criteria, including having at least four firefighters to respond on an initial alarm call to structure fires, having at least one pumper truck in each station, keeping detailed records of training and equipment testing, and conducting training for active members at least three hours every three months.
“We worked diligently within our department, from changes to infrastructure, improving the staffing, increased shift command, updated standard operating procedures, and improved documentation practices,” Stewart said. “All of these changes helped us achieve the classification of 3.
“We will continue to challenge ourselves to improve, through training, education, fire prevention, inspections and community service. We shall provide the city the best fire protection in this area.”
The amount of savings as a result of class improvement can vary from household to household.
“For our businesses … if you’re listed as a bar, restaurant or mercantile business, you could see up to a 10 to 20 percent reduction in your insurance rate,” assistant fire chief Danny Wade said. “If you’re listed as a church, you could see anywhere from a 2 to a 14 percent discount in your insurance rate.
“If you’re listed as an office building in the city, you could receive anywhere from a 3 to a 6 percent insurance saving. The rating that we have is a national rating, but it’s going to be determined by your insurance company. This is a great accomplishment for our community and the City of Hattiesburg.”
Barker said at the moment, most residents are understandably focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, but he wants citizens to know that the city is continuing to press forward.
“We continue to accomplish things,” he said. “Because when we come out of this thing – and we will – Hattiesburg will be better positioned for further growth, whether it be residential, commercial or industrial. And we’ll be further equipped as we endeavor to be that premier city in the Gulf South.”