Homeowners in Pine Bluff can expect to see lower insurance rates in the future because of a change in the city's Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating.

Homeowners in Pine Bluff can expect to see lower insurance rates in the future because of a change in the city’s Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating.

At a press conference Thursday morning at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell said the change from a Class 3 rating to a Class 2 rating took effect Thursday.

Describing the upgrade, Howell said the last time the city was reviewed was in May 2000, and that review resulted in the Class 3 rating.

“This has been a long process,” Howell said. “It’s been 13 years in the making.”

He said home and business owners “will not instantly receive a refund check.

“You will see savings when you renew your policy,” Howell said, adding that the discounts will vary per company.

“Everyone should see some savings,” Howell said.

Howell said there are currently only 15 other departments in the state that have a Class 2 rating, and just two with a Class 1 rating.

“One of the things that affects ratings is staffing,” Howell said. “That was a large factor in us not getting a one. If we can get staffing up, and maintain it, it would be a big plus for us.”

A number of factors are included in the ISO rating, including fire department operations, water supply and fire alarm communications operations.

Regarding operations, the department was graded on first alarm response, number of engines and truck companies, equipment carried on the trucks, staffing and training. Also included are Mutual Aid Agreements with neighboring fire departments. Operations accounted for 50 percent of the total grade.

Another 40 percent of the grade is based on water supply, including water flow capacity, types of hydrants and condition of the hydrants, and the remaining 10 percent of the grade is based on communications, including how the dispatch center is staffed, equipped and how calls are handled.

Howell credited Liberty Utilities (formerly United Water) for its help in the improved rating, and also recognized MECA (Metropolitan Emergency Communications Association) Operations Manager Melinda Elliott, who supervises the dispatch center.

“Back in the old days before MECA, the fire department used to dispatch all our calls,” Howell said. “Some people still think when they call the fire department they’re calling the nearest station but they’re actually calling the dispatch center.”

Howell also credited the passage of the five-eighths-cent sales tax increase by city voters that allowed the department to acquire new equipment, increase staffing, remodel two existing fire stations and start construction on a new station to replace an existing station.