Company raises city's fire rating

City Manager Ken Frank announced Tuesday that Laguna Beach property owners may get a break on their insurance after an evaluation of the city's ability to protect its residents and businesses from fire.

The Insurance Services Office Inc. elevated the city's public protection capability from a Class 4 to a Class 3 after surveying how and with what fires are fought in town. The benefits of the elevated rating are unknown at this time.

"This could lower insurance rates, but we don't know that," Frank said Wednesday. "Commercial properties are more likely to be impacted."

In a press release issued earlier that day, Frank said the Class 3 designation puts Laguna in the top 25% of all cities in California.

"This was good work by the Fire Department and good work by the water districts," Frank said at Tuesday's council meeting.

The city received 32 credits out of a possible 35. A key factor in the high rating was the quality of the water supply, Frank said.

"For water services only, the city would be ranked in a select group of cities in Category 1," Frank said.

"The rating reflects very favorably on the efforts of the Laguna Beach County Water District and the South Coast Water District in their provision of a commendable level of emergency water service in Laguna Beach."

Laguna has 22 reservoirs, built by the county district. The most recently constructed is in North Laguna, named for Lou Zink, a former county district board member.

"Since the devastation of the 1993 firestorm, the district has worked with the city and the Fire Department to be as prepared as possible to combat fire," district General Manager Renee Hinchey said.

David Horne, who was instrumental in convincing insurers not to abandon Laguna Beach to the expensive and minimal coverage state fire insurance pool, has organized the Red Flag Patrol, a cadre of volunteers who keep watch on high fire risk days in cooperation with the Fire Department.

The upgrade in the city's classification did not surprise recently appointed fire Chief Kris Head.

"The city was a Class 4 in the last ratings, but we knew with all the things we have been doing, that we would fare better this time," Head said.

Frank was notified in a letter dated June 8 of the upgrade by the Insurance Services Office's Public Protection Classification Department, a supplier of data and analyses to the property and casualty insurance industry.

According to the letter, most insurers use the information to decide on coverage or prices to charge for personal or commercial property insurance.

Other factors in coverage include individual insurers' fire-loss experience, method of rating, underwriting guidelines and marketing strategy.

Also according to the letter, communities and fire departments use the ratings as a tool in planning budgeting and justifying fire protection improvements.

Classification Department personnel were unavailable for comment.

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