Urbana Fire Department joins Champaign among top rated in nation

Urbana Fire Department joins Champaign among top rated in nation

URBANA — For fire departments, earning a Class 1 rating from the Insurance Services Office is the dream. The inspections are so rigorous that this year, just 305 of the more than 46,000 departments certified by the agency across the country earned that designation.

Only 16 of them are in Illinois — and Champaign County now has two, as the Urbana Fire Department has joined its sister agency across Wright Street in the exclusive Class 1 club.

"To get this designation is a reflection of the quality of the department, the personnel, the education and training, the facilities, the equipment," Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin said. "It's a wonderful achievement that reflects a lot of hard work. And I don't know how often it happens to have two Class 1 fire departments in the same community, but I don't think it's very often."

The project to bump Urbana's department up from Class 2 and reach the top 1 percent of all fire departments in the country started with former Chief Brian Nightlinger, though he said Capt. Brian Houska did a lot of the heavy lifting.

"It wasn't just the half-dozen of us officers who were measuring stuff; it was all 60 employees," Houska said. "It's based on what we do on a daily basis, and we really didn't change anything. I think we can say that across the board, twin city residents are pretty well served. They're getting value for their tax dollars."

Though full of confidence, Urbana's department wasn't in for an easy inspection. In calculating its Public Protection Rating, the ISO looks at four factors: the fire department, the needed fire flow — the amount of water an engine needs to put out a fire — water supply and distribution, and emergency communications. So it's not just the fire department that gets scrutinized with a fine-toothed comb every year, but also METCAD and Illinois American Water.

The ISO grades communities on a 100-point scale, and anything above 90 earns a Class 1 rating. Urbana got a 90.92 this year, with the fire department scoring 42.02 out of 50, Illinois American Water scoring 36.65 out of 40 and METCAD scoring 9.55 out of 10.

That 9.55 score elated METCAD Director Ralph Caldwell.

"Obviously, it's stressful, because our evaluation impacts other organizations, not just METCAD," Caldwell said. "But we pride ourselves in doing the right thing at the right time and meeting their guidelines to get first responders to the scene quickly. We scored very high, but we couldn't have done it without everyone else. We're one family. We're brothers and sisters."

Operations Manager Betsy Smith was most proud that now both fire departments in C-U are certified as at the top of their game.

"It really speaks to the cooperation between the two departments," Smith said. "They do a lot of training together and a lot of mutual aid together."

Matt White, superintendent of the distribution system for Illinois American Water, said the rating is proof that the effort that all three organizations have been putting in is working.

"It was my first time going through the rating process, so of course, not knowing what to expect, we made sure we had all the t's crossed and i's dotted," White said. "But I can't say it was a huge surprise. We did our homework, and it all worked out well together. This is proof that we're all working together to make sure we take care of the people in our community."

Urbana fire Lt. Greg Kingston said he feels very lucky to finally, officially be on the same level as the department next door.

"Not many get this rating, so it shows we're doing the work we need to do," Kingston said. "We're very fortunate to have a community right next door that when our resources are taxed, we can call and know we have a comparable, equally trained and competent fire departments."

Urbana's new fire chief called the rating "monumental."

"The work this department has done is tremendous," Chuck Lauss said. "I knew before I ever started that this department works very, very hard, and they're very committed. This ISO 1 is a perfect indication of how good the department is and how well they serve the community. It's awesome to be a part of it."

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