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Santee Fire Safety Put Among Best in County

Times Staff Writer

Fire safety in Encinitas has improved greatly, and Santee received one of the best fire safety ratings in the county, according to the latest evaluation by Commercial Risk Services Inc., an organization that rates fire departments and districts nationwide for insurance purposes.

The Los Angeles company rates the effectiveness of a city’s fire department, communications network and water supply. The latest rankings, released this month, included data for Encinitas, Santee, Vista and Chula Vista.

Santee was bumped up one notch when Commercial Risk Services gave it a Class 2 grade, the second-highest possible under the ranking system. Encinitas jumped two rating categories--to Class 3 from Class 5--making it the most improved of the four San Diego County communities evaluated. Both Vista and Chula Vista moved up one rank to Class 3.

The improved ratings mean that businesses located in those cities can expect reductions in their fire insurance rates, said Robert Edwards, a Commercial Risk Services supervisor. The ratings do not affect residential insurance premiums because those are classed differently, Edwards said.

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Some Santee businesses will be in line for a reduction of almost 20% in premiums for fire insurance on Aug. 1, when the new ratings become effective, he said.

“Our improved rating probably came about mainly because of the city’s automatic mutual aid agreement with surrounding cities,” Santee Fire Chief Ron Berry said. Under Santee’s agreement with El Cajon, Lakeside, La Mesa and Spring Valley, the nearest fire department will answer an alarm even if it is in the another department’s jurisdiction. The cities also jointly train their firefighters and operate a common communications system.

“We’re trying very hard to give Santee an attractive business climate,” said Berry, adding that the lower rating will help to make it more economical for businesses to relocate in Santee.

“This (Class 2 rating) can’t hurt with the city’s expansion when businesses are thinking of moving into San Diego County,” said Bill Adams, Santee’s community services coordinator with the Department of Human Services.

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Battalion Chief Sam Lopez of the Chula Vista Fire Department attributed his district’s better rating to an improved water supply, more training and better communications with the 911 emergency number services.

No city in San Diego County has ever achieved a Class 1 rating, said Edwards, but some have been rated 10, the lowest on Commercial Risk Services’ scale. Edwards declined to divulge the names of those communities.

At least two rural fire departments have been given a 10 rating by Commercial Risk Services, said Don Anders, fire protection officer for the Rural Fire Protection District. Those are the volunteer fire companies in Dehesa Valley and Mount Laguna.

“County rural areas are spread over 700 square miles,” Anderson said, “and most of the places lack efficient water systems and fire departments. In fact, most of the areas have volunteer firefighters as opposed to paid firefighters.”

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To evaluate water supply, Commercial Risk Services investigates a community’s water source as well as pumps, pipelines, wells, tanks and hydrants. The firm grades fire departments by checking fire equipment, available manpower and training, how equipment is tested and maintained, the location of fire stations and response times.


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