Philadelphia will maintain its Class 6 fire rating following an evaluation by the Mississippi State Rating Bureau, which cited a need for additional water hydrants in the newest annexed areas of the city as well as a need for more firefighters.

Richard Watkins, field rating representative, told the Mayor and Board of Aldermen last week that the city's fire coverage has "improved somewhat" since the last evaluation.

"It is not just the fire department's rating," Watkins said. "It's the community's ability to provide fire protection through water supply, fire department, building codes and enforcements and communication. The fire department and the water department share equally the burden."

A city's fire rating is one of several elements used in determining residential and commercial property insurance rates.

Mayor James A. Young asked Watkins to explain to the board how ratings are compiled for such cities as Philadelphia as opposed to Louisville.

"It's very difficult to explain similar populations and similar community sizes simply because each community is very specific to its own," Watkins said.

As an example, he said it was like comparing apples that were grown on different trees.

He said the Bureau looks at a number of factors, including the number of non-sprinkler buildings in a city in order to establish a fire load.

Louisville's fire load is 2,000 gallons of water a minute while Philadelphia's is 3,000 gallons of water a minute, he said.

The fire load determines how many trucks and how many firefighters have to be available, he said.

The Bureau also looks at the availability of fire hydrants.

"There are some areas in Philadelphia that are in desperate need of fire hydrants," Watkins said, noting the newest annexed area of the city along the bypass and off Mississippi 16 west.

Parts of that area are serviced by Central Water Association and not Philadelphia Utilities.

"We realize there are water rights issues in that area," Watkins said. "You could run a fire main and put in hydrants but you couldn't sell water. Louisville doesn't have that issue but cities such as Hattiesburg do."

All commercial buildings should be within 500 feet of a hydrant, the Rating Bureau said.

Watkins said the new water tank on Mississippi 16 west brought about improvements.

In determining a city's fire rating, the Bureau looks at 18 factors in the fire department, 14 in the water department, nine in building codes and four in communications.

Philadelphia's fire rating has been at Class 6 since 1988.

"You've been wavering since 1997 when you were close to going back to a Class 7," Watkins said. "With a Class 7, homeowners wouldn't be affected, but businesses would. Some would see a minor increase [in insurance premiums] and some a substantial increase depending on types of occupancy and construction, etc."

Watkins told aldermen that a city's fire rating was an economic development tool.

"If you want to bring business in a lot of time they look at cities where insurance is cheaper," he said.

Fire Chief Pierce Clark said he was pleased with the rating.

"The city is very, very safe right now as far as fire protection," he said. "We do need more hydrants in the more rural areas of the city itself. Water is a problem in every city. It's very expensive to deal with."

The Rating Bureau provided several recommendations that the city could utilize to work toward a Class 5 rating, including the relocation of Station 3 from Gum Street so that all commercial properties in the Mississippi 16 and Mississippi 15 corridors would be within one and one-half miles to the responding fire station.

"Station 3 was built for the Williamsville area but the city put it on Gum Street because they received a grant for a station in a low income area," Clark said. "It is in very, very close proximity to Station 2. They are actually on top of each other and in each others territory."

Among other recommendations:

• Staff each engine and ladder company with three firefighters on duty at all times.

• Continue to maintain a training program for all firefighters.

• Provide a full time fire prevention officer with no other duties.

• Update and provide for the strict enforcement of a modern Building Code, Gas Code, Electric Code and Fire Prevention Code.

• Provide auxiliary engines, such as gasoline, diesel, butane or natural gas powered, on enough well pumps so that you could maintain a pumping capacity of at least equal to the maximum daily water consumption rate.

• Strengthen the water distribution system so that 3,000 gallons per minute with a residual pressure of 20 pounds would be available in commercial areas and 1,000 gallons per minute with a residual pressure of 20 pounds would be available in residential areas.

• Begin and maintain an annual inspection and operation program of all gate valves in the water distribution system.

• Install hydrants where spacing is excessive.

In addition to the Gum Street station, the fire department has stations on Mississippi 19 north and below City Hall off Main Street.