This week, Mexico Beach officials are sounding the bells of success after succeeding in lowering the city’s fire rating via increasing department readiness to serve homeowners in the event of a fire disaster.

Last fall, the Insurance Service Office (ISO) for-profit fire insurance rating agency had placed the city of Mexico Beach on alert that unless it made several improvements in personnel and equipment, the worst rating of 10 would affect all residents by raising their rates as of Sept. 11.

After months of hiring, training, fundraising and with support from the city council the new fire department received a letter stating that the ISO has kicked its rating down to hold at a solid six.

“We are now working from the position of having a staff of six full-time firefighters and that everything is done,” said Emergency Services Director (Chief) Daniel Simmons. “Our goal is to maintain these elements, put in place, and hold steady for the next five years.”

The Council voted in December to implement a fire assessment on property owners and according to City Administrator, Mel Smigielski, the reduced score, “is a victory for the department. With a 10, we were facing the facts that some insurance companies would not cover a home, which is a problem, for mortgages. We were faced with a decision.”

Part of the issue is that Florida passed a law that states four certified firefighters must show up to a scene to enter a fire zone, otherwise the department receives no credit, even if the house was saved.

“In their eyes, it is inadequate coverage,” said Smigieleski.

Simmons said now he has two full-timers per day working 24-hour rotating shifts.

“The Mexico Beach population is older,” Smigielski said, “so, there is not a talent pool to pull from. Simmons was able to reach out to Bay County, and fill slots.”

There is also a new fire truck scheduled to be delivered in December.

“The station is in a lot better shape,” said Smigielski, “plus we are taking proper steps,” referring to a possible assessment to establish a history, and records, in three years.

For now, they are building that history with regular training, hydrant checks and making sure that reports are filled out, among other check-list items.

Property owners do not have to reapply for rates, since ISO automatically sends documentation to the insurance companies, which underwrite the service.

In the future, Bay County will collect money and send out notices “which will help us out a lot,” said Smigielski, whose staff was tasked with this job during the first assessment.