We've all seen and read reports about City Budgets cutting funding to fire departments, requiring reductions in staffing, equipment and training. This is a story of just the opposite:

City's fire protection upgraded in recent years

Despite some recent high-profile blazes, Edmonton buildings are safer from fire now than just a few years ago, says the fire chief.

"Compared to six years ago, Edmontonians live in a far safer city from a fire safety perspective," Chief Ken Block said yesterday.

Edmonton's fire insurance rating has been bumped up thanks to a boost in the number of people and pieces of equipment available to fight and prevent blazes.

The move could result in cheaper insurance for owners of commercial buildings, including apartment blocks and office towers, say officials.

Cities are given a fire rating on a scale from one to 10 based on the community's ability to prevent and control major fires.

Edmonton now ranks a two - the second-best classification - up from a three.

The city has in recent years upgraded its fire-fighting equipment, increased staffing levels, added fire stations and beefed up Edmonton's fire prevention programs, Block said.

Thirty-nine new positions were created last year alone, including four public education officers and four fire prevention officers, who inspect buildings. The remainder were firefighters.

Block said Edmonton's classification was lowered to a three in the mid-1990s, following a series of budget cuts.

The upgrade was made by the Fire Underwriters Survey. The information is typically used to determine fire insurance premiums.

Just yesterday, a fire ripped through a city condo complex, causing an estimated $4 million in damage.

One of the city's oldest buildings - the nearly century- old Kelly-Ramsey block - was partially destroyed by fire in March.