The City of Hays has received an improved fire protection rating, which potentially could result in reduced insurance costs for local property owners, Fire Chief Gary Brown said at Thursday’s Hays City Commission work session.

The Insurance Services Office bumped the city up from a class three to a class two rating, in part due to recent emergency communications upgrades provided by Ellis County and an enhanced automatic aid agreement with the county fire department.

“Generally, what that means in the community is improved fire protection classification should mean, all things being equal, lower insurance rates,” Brown said. “The other thing it really means is, for the resources you’ve allocated to us to do these jobs, we’re very effective in using these resources on the best practices as identified by ISO.”

The improved rating takes effect April 1.

Brown said all property owners should contact their insurance agents to inquire if their rate could be reduced. A change is likely to be more significant for commercial property owners and landlords who own several properties.

The change places the city in the top 4 percent of communities nationwide, with only 1,663 of more than 44,600 cities ranking at class one or two. In Kansas, only 24 of 1,084 communities place in the top two rankings, putting Hays in the top 2 percent, Brown said.

A class one is the best, and the scale extends to a class 10, which indicates no recognized fire protection services. Inspections are completed every five years by the ISO, a private corporation that helps insurance companies set rates.

Several factors are considered during the inspection, including emergency communications, available water resources and hydrant placement, police inspections when a fire occurs, and the enforcement of city building codes. The fire department’s staffing, trucks, training and operational procedures also are considered.

A major factor in the recent inspection was an automatic aid agreement between the City of Hays and Ellis County fire departments that took effect last year. The two departments automatically respond to assist each other with reported structure fires in and surrounding the city limits of Hays.

That allowed the city to also receive additional credit for the county fire station, vehicles and firefighters located in the city, Brown said. The agreement already has proven to help reduce response times when a building fire is reported.

“We now have 74-percent credit for fire station distribution in our community, including the county fire station in that,” he said. “Previously, we got 37 percent of available credit for firefighters responding to the initial alarm of a fire, and now we’re up to 69-percent credit because of the cooperation between the city and the county for that, so that’s really helped us tremendously.”

The county and city also are working together to create a training facility to be located on city land near the wastewater treatment plant. Officials are exploring grant opportunities to offset costs, but that also could help improve the city’s rating, Brown said, noting that was one area the city scored low in during the ISO inspection.

City commissioners spoke in favor of continued cooperation with Ellis County and thanked the fire departments for their efforts.

“This is great news for the residents of Hays and Ellis County, really,” commissioner Shaun Musil said. “I think a big part of this is working together with Ellis County. … Everything we do, I think we should work together.”