By JASON ECK
A private company that evaluates and rates fire protection in communities across the country will take measure of the Sonora Fire Department in late March.
The firm's first visit in 21 years could result in lower insurance rates for commercial and residential property owners, insurance and fire officials said.
The Insurance Services Office visits fire departments and ranks their firefighting capabilities and the adequacy of the water systems they use on a scale of 1 to 10. Class 1 represents exemplary fire protection, and Class 10 indicates that the area's fire-suppression program does not meet ISO's minimum criteria.
ISO will be in Sonora on March 26 and 27.
Ratings are based on a variety of factors: 50 percent on the fire department (equipment, personnel and training); 40 percent on water supply; and 10 percent on how the department receives and handles fire calls.
When ISO last visited in 1982, the city was rated a 6 for its downtown, urban areas, and a 9 in rural areas where fire hydrant flow is low and where hydrants are spaced too far apart.
Fire Chief Mike Barrows said several changes have been made since then that should raise the city's ratings from improving hydrant flow in the city's commercial and residential areas to adding new fire engines.
The city periodically sends paperwork to ISO updating the company on its progress. The company decides to review a particular department when significant progress has been made.
ISO planned a survey in Sonora in 1998, but city officials asked the company to hold off on its visit to allow more time to make improvements. In 2000, based on information the department submitted, again ISO did not make an evaluation.
Barrows said he believes the city has done enough to be rated a 5 in the urban areas. Areas now with a 9 rating, he said, may see an improvement.