Key Peninsula Volunteer Firefighters take the heat of a mid-August drill. Photo: Grace Nesbit

Longbranch homes are even safer from fire damage these days with an improved Protection Class (PC) rating for the Longbranch fire station by the Washington Survey and Rating Bureau (WSRB).

“The Longbranch area was rated PC-9; it will now be rated PC-5. As with all other areas of the fire district, you receive the Class-5 rating provided your home is within five driving miles of a fire station and you have a hydrant within 1,000 feet of your property. If you do not have a hydrant close enough, then your rating is adjusted to a Class-6,” according to Key Peninsula Fire Chief Guy Allen who announced the news Aug. 1. 

Annual insurance premiums paid by homeowners depend on the home’s value, but rates are expected to drop significantly in Longbranch with the latest rating from WSRB according to Allen.

“This improved rating is the direct result of new volunteer firefighters living at the south end; that helped us increase the number of people available to respond out of Station 49,” Volunteer Battalion Chief Anne Nesbit said. 

PC ratings rank a community’s fire protection system, providing insurance companies with information they then use to set homeowner insurance rates. The highest rank, Class 1, represents an excellent fire protection system. The lowest rank, class 10, indicates zero protection. Classes 9 and 10 are considered unprotected. Often these are rural areas without sufficient hydrants or fire departments. Specific PC ratings are tied to each home’s proximity to a fire station and hydrant.

In Longbranch, fire hydrants are located at Taylor Bay Estates, Driftwood Point and on Tipperary Drive.

PC ratings are made after a careful and complete inventory of a fire department’s staffing, equipment, communications and water systems. As a member of WSRB himself, Allen was able to predict the Longbranch drop to PC-9 several years ago and knew it would take additional staffing to bring it back up.

The water-bound geography of the Key Peninsula means assistance from neighboring fire departments can be slow to arrive in an emergency, making the need for volunteers even more important.

“As Volunteer Battalion Chief, I really wanted to beef up our on-Key volunteer group and that has been the focus of our recruitment,” Nesbit said. “We’ll take people from Gig Harbor as long as they are within a timely response to one of our stations. The community and our department benefits even more if someone lives in the district because they are more apt to respond to a call when they are off-shift.” 

“We were lucky this year that several of the applicants for our volunteer program were in the KP south area,” Nesbit said. “They did well enough to be accepted, they excelled and are now part of our department. Combined with professional staff, the new volunteers added enough firefighters to qualify Station 49 in Longbranch for the improved rating from WSRB.” 

Finding adequate staffing for the Key Peninsula Fire Department has always been tough and the local tax base makes bringing on additional paid staff unlikely, Allen said. But, because the WSRB views both professional and volunteer firefighters equally, he said that local residents donating their time to the fire department makes a huge difference. 

To become a volunteer firefighter a person needs to be at least 18 years old, a high school graduate and able to pass a written exam that includes both math and reading comprehension. The test can be challenging, but provides the fire department with information about the candidate’s ability to learn, which is important due to the training required of volunteers. “If you know someone who is looking for something to keep them busy, we need all the volunteers we can get,” Allen said. Both men and women are encouraged to apply.

In a letter to Chief Allen, the WSRB stated that it is up to homeowners to ensure their insurance companies are aware of the change. “We recommend that residents of your community residing around the Longbranch station contact their insurance agents to determine the relative effect this new station rating will have on their insurance premiums,” a WSRB representative wrote.

Before contacting their insurance company, homeowners can contact WSRB to get a specific PC rating for their home free of charge by calling WSRB Customer Service at 206-217-0101 or emailing customerservice@wsrb.com. 

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