Polson city fire receives first grades since restructuring

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The City of Polson Fire Department held strong in its first insurance assessment since splitting ways with Polson Rural Fire in 2015.

“We didn’t get any worse but we didn’t get any better,” Polson City Manager Mark Shrives said during a city commission meeting last month.

Despite undergoing a major restructuring, the all-volunteer department retained an Insurance Services Office, or ISO, score of 5. Based on a scale of 1 to 10, with lower scores being more favorable, ISO ratings, used by many insurance companies to determine premiums for property owners.

Fire Chief Clint Cottle said that while he’s glad the department did not regress, the survey brought to light several areas for improvement.

Cottle said the department can easily boost future scores by establishing a track record for maintenance operations. Having recently become an independent force, Cottle said the department hasn’t had the opportunity to amass reports of hose checks and other practices.

The department was also marked down in the training category – an area Cottle said he expects to improve greatly with the construction of a dedicated facility later this spring. Like most departments in the area, Cottle said city firefighters currently have to scrounge for places to hold practice sessions. He said the department is in the process of securing funding for a new training facility behind the Polson Skate Park, with construction anticipated to begin in the next few months.

Another easy fix involves establishing an automatic mutual aid agreement between neighboring departments. According to ISO standards, the department’s coverage area warrants the need for another engine company. But with new fire trucks costing around $500,000, Cottle said enlisting the help of neighboring crews offers a much cheaper alternative. Under the agreement, which would trigger a call for mutual aid for every structure fire, participating departments are able to claim each other’s equipment during rating reviews.

Combined, Cottle said he hopes the efforts can improve the department’s scores during the next assessment cycle in three years.

Pete Bishop, a volunteer firefighter with the department and co-owner of Bishop Insurance Service, said that, depending on the provider, ISO ratings can have a direct impact on premiums.

While he stressed that improvements might not bring about savings for every homeowner, a movement in the opposite direction often carries negative implications, especially for commercial properties.

“If we go backwards, some people might have to go find a new insurance company,” he said.

As a 35-year department veteran, Bishop said the recent assessment shows things are on the right track.

“We were happy we stayed a 5,” he said. “Now we have a game plan to improve.”

Cottle reiterated this sentiment, and said he anticipates improvements the next time inspectors come around.

“This has been a great learning experience and we can use this as a blueprint moving forward,” he said.

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