GORHAM – Improved fire ratings for Gorham become effective Saturday, and that could be good news for residents and business owners.

Gorham Fire Chief Robert Lefebvre said that Insurance Services Office Inc., in New Jersey, has upgraded Gorham’s public fire protection classification. The new classifications go into effect Sept. 1. The new ratings mean insurance premiums could decrease.

For areas in Gorham supplied by public water and with hydrants, Gorham’s classification was upgraded to a class 3 rating from a 4. A 1 classification is the best. The rest of the largely rural town was upgraded to a class 5 from class 9.

Gorham is one of only seven communities in Maine scoring a class 3 and one of only 1,998 communities in the country. Westbrook has a class 3 rating and it remained unchanged from last year, according to the office of Westbrook Deputy Fire Chief Wayne Jones.

Gorham was last rated by the Insurance Services Office in 1997. At that time, the town’s rating improved from a 6 to 4.

Lefebvre said the recent arsons in town that are being investigated do not impact the town’s fire protection rating.

Lefebvre said some insurance companies don’t recognize ISO ratings. He said residential property owners in areas in town served by public water might not realize an insurance rate reduction under the new classification, but it could impact insurance rates for businesses. Lefebvre said the upgrade from a 9 to a 5 in other town areas should make a difference in insurance rates for both residents and businesses.

“We strongly encourage people to contact (their) insurance carriers,” Lefebvre said.

Lefebvre said if property owners are told they wouldn’t see a decrease in insurance costs, “ask why.”

Lefebvre said several factors led to the improved ratings for Gorham, including a town ordinance requiring sprinklers in buildings. Every major building on the campus of the University of Southern Maine has a sprinkler system, he said. Buildings requiring sprinkler systems include those new single-family homes in subdivisions not served by public water or a fire pond; some new commercial buildings, depending on height and square footage; buildings with three or more uses; and some building enlargements or additions.

In rural areas, the addition of several fire ponds contributed to the new rating. Also, fire department personnel have proved their mettle in their ability to provide sustained water at a fire.

Last October, Gorham firefighters demonstrated they could provide 1,275 gallons of water per minute for two hours, far exceeding minimum non-stop water flow of 250 gallons per minute for two hours. Gorham firefighters also proved they could lay 4,000 feet of hose in 10 minutes and get water flowing.

The exercise was instrumental in the improved fire protection rating for the town.

“That was the biggest thing going from a 9 to a 5,” Lefebvre said.

And, he said, “fire ponds and sprinklers are key.”

The ratings also hinge on other factors including firefighters’ training, equipment, communications equipment, testing of hoses and pumps, along with the locations of fire stations. Gorham has a central station at the Public Safety Building on Main Street in addition to stations at West Gorham and White Rock. Gorham also shares fire stations with Scarborough, Standish and Windham.

Only two Maine communities have a class 2 rating and none is rated as a 1. Lefebvre said Gorham would likely have to add facilities to acquire a 1 rating.

There are no suspects in the string of arsons in March and April, and investigations are continuing, Detective Sgt. Dana Thompson of the Gorham police said Wednesday.

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