Kannapolis' Fire Department Coverage Shows Improvement in North Carolina

Kannapolis is fired up that its fire protection rating is improving.

The N.C. Insurance Department has lowered the city's rating from a 5 to a 4 to reflect improvements with the Fire Department.

That's an important step for a department that was called "woefully and dangerously understaffed" in a January 2002 independent report.

The ratings, a 10-point scale where a 1 is best, gauge a department's capacity to respond to fires in its district.

The change also is good news for commercial businesses: They could see a 2 percent decrease in their insurance rates, state Insurance Department spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said.

Residential rates are not affected by the change, according to Pearson.

Kannapolis officials were pleased with the new designation and hope to continue to improve their score.

"This is a reflection of the investment City Council has made in the Fire Department over many years," City Manager Mike Legg said.

The department has seen numerous changes since it began in 1987, city Fire Chief Larry Phillips said. Kannapolis now has 51 full-time staffers, 30 volunteers and four fire stations. Construction of a fifth station is slated to begin in the next couple of months.

That new station, in southwest Kannapolis, will cost an estimated $4 million. And this week, the City Council approved hiring three more full-time employees at a total cost of $150,000 as part of the city's new budget.

For several years now, the state has rated all but the largest departments in North Carolina. Most of the 1,500 departments the state tracks have a 9 rating, which Pearson called a good mark that reflects the size and rural makeup of most of those agencies.

Legg said Kannapolis would like to achieve a 3 rating next time around.

The new rating will become official Sept. 1 and last until the next state review, typically in three to five years. Kannapolis can request an earlier review if it believes it could lower the rating again, Pearson said.

The January 2002 report blistered the department, saying a shortage of full-time firefighters was putting people and property at risk. At the time, Kannapolis had 29 full-time employees and 48 volunteers.

Those criticisms are no longer valid, Phillips said, pointing to the increase in size of the professional staff. For instance, he said, in 2001 Kannapolis had 12 paid drivers; now it has 27.

The city's goal for several years now has been to increase the department's size by 2010 to 96 full-time staff members.

Distributed by the Associated Press