By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Home and businesses owners could reap the rewards of Tupelo’s improved fire rating, which moved this month from a Class 5 to a Class 4.
City leaders learned of the decision Monday from the Mississippi State Rating Bureau and applauded it as a huge achievement.
“I’m really excited,” said Mayor Jack Reed Jr. “It’s something we’ve been working on for some time.”
It’s the first rating change for the city since 1972, when it had earned Class 5 status, said Ty Windham, the bureau’s public protection superintendent.
The bureau assigns all Mississippi fire departments a rating. They range from first class, which is the best, to 10th class, which is the worst. Ratings are based on fire staffing and equipment, water capacity, building codes and communication ability.
Generally, the lower a community’s fire rating, the lower the insurance premiums will be for homes and businesses in that protection district. Commercial properties typically see the biggest savings when a rating improves, Windham said.
Tupelo had launched an effort at least five years ago to earn a Class 4 rating. To get it, it moved Station No. 4 from Rial Street to North Gloster Street where it would be closer to new commercial and residential growth. It also updated its housing code to boost construction-related fire protection.
One aspect of the plan, though, remains unfulfilled – erecting a new water tower in west Tupelo.
“They’ve still got some work to do,” Windham said, “but they’ve got enough to get into that class. We’ll come back in five years and they ought to be in a better part of Class 4.”
Inspectors from the bureau visited the city May 16-20.
Tupelo joins seven other cities statewide with a Class 4 rating. They are Biloxi, Greenwood, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Meridian, Oxford and Yazoo City. The highest classification currently achieved in Mississippi is a 3; Jackson and Southaven both earned this, Windham said.
Windham had testified last year in Tupelo’s annexation trial, in which opponents questioned whether the city could even maintain its current fire rating. The city won at trial, but the case is on appeal at the Mississippi Supreme Court.
City attorney Guy Mitchell called the bureau’s decision welcomed news.
“This was an issue of contention raised by Lee County who claimed that Tupelo was in danger of possibly losing its five rating,” he said, “and the city maintained the opposite and the opposite has proven true.”
Fire Chief Thomas Walker was not immediately available for comment, but the city will hold a press conference on the new rating June 23.