Hutto Fire Rescue plans for future

Measures aimed at increasing city's ISO rating

Hutto Fire Rescue, or Williamson County Emergency Services District No. 3, is implementing processes to improve fire protection within the district, which includes cost-effective measures in the short term and planning for additional fire stations in the future.

Fire Chief Scott Kerwood said the fire district is working to lower its rating from the Insurance Services Office, a private company that measures fire protection in communities throughout the nation on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best.

The lower ISO rating could bring benefits that include lower insurance premiums for home and business owners as well as economic development.

The district received an ISO rating of 4 in 2005 within areas served by fire hydrants and within five miles of a fire station. Because of both growth in the population it serves and the department itself in the past seven years, Kerwood said the city plans to have ISO re-evaluate the emergency services district in early 2013.

"We know we can make that better," Kerwood said, noting that in 2005 Hutto was served by an all-volunteer fire department with one fire truck.

The emergency services district hired Mike Pietsch, a civil engineer with P.E. Consulting Service Inc., to identify how to lower the ISO rating. At a joint meeting of the WCESD No. 3 board and Hutto City Council on May 3, Pietsch presented cost-effective measures that could bring the city to an ISO rating of 3.

He said attaining an ISO of 2 or 1, which signifies the highest level of fire protection, would require additional fire stations, personnel and equipment—items the city is considering putting in its capital improvement plan for the years to come.

Insurance Services Office

Insurance agencies use the ISO's rating when setting insurance premiums. Pietsch said improving Hutto Fire Rescue's rating from a 4 to a 3 could result in 9 percent savings on commercial insurance and 3 percent on residential. An ISO rating of 2 could result in savings of 11 percent for commercial and 10 percent for residential insurance.

"That's money back in their pockets," Kerwood said of the savings to Hutto residents.

Large commercial developments also consider insurance costs when looking to move into a community, Pietsch said.

Kerwood said Hutto Fire Rescue is already in the process of implementing measures to bring the ISO rating to a 3.

On June 1, the fire department began developing individual plans for buildings in Hutto in the case of a fire.

"They aren't looking for code compliance; they're looking from the perspective of, 'If this building catches fire, how are we going to fight it?'" he said.

Round Rock and WCESD also signed an agreement that went into effect July 1 in which the two fire departments will come to each other's aid if a fire were to occur in the apartment complexes in Star Ranch.

The fire department also obtained copies of Hutto ISD fire exit drills, began implementing a weekly test in June of the generator load at the fire station and adopted the 2009 International Fire Code in April.

Fire stations

To bring the ISO rating to a 2 or 1, the consultant's report recommended three additional fire stations in Hutto based on the city's current population, with two of the facilities south of the railroad tracks that divide Hutto south of Hwy. 79.

Kerwood said the southern stations would lower response time for the department when there is a train crossing the tracks, especially in the southeast portion of the city.

"We get stopped by trains all the time," he said. "The No. 1 question I always get asked by citizens is, 'When do we get a fire station south of the tracks?'"

City Manager David Mitchell said City Council will consider adding fire stations into its five-year Capital Improvement Plan at its July 20 meeting. Even though the fire stations may be included in the CIP, council would still have to determine when the best time is to move forward with funding of the project, which could be years.

The first two fire stations and their equipment are estimated to cost about $6.5 million each, and the third station would run about $4 million because of fire trucks and equipment that can be shared among the other stations.

Although additional fire stations could be years in the future, developing plans for them now will prepare the city for when funding is identified, Mitchell said.



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