FLOOD FIGHTERS: Crookston fire chief stands out in flood-fIghting effortRichard Rock was born and raised here, so he grew up with the city’s chronic spring flooding of the Red Lake River.
By: Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks Herald
CROOKSTON — Richard Rock was born and raised here, so he grew up with the city’s chronic spring flooding of the Red Lake River.
One of his more profound memories is one of the earliest. He was in grade school when he watched adults use poles to push ice chunks under a bridge. Ice jams were — and still are — one of the city’s bigger flooding complications.
He also remembers the river lapping at the top of the sandbags. “The impression as a kid was that the river was almost the same level as the sandbags,” he said.
Poles are no longer part of the strategy of the city’s 56-year-old emergency manager. But sandbags still are. But even those days are numbered, as 80 percent of Crookston has been fortified with levees and other protection measures.
Levee construction starts this summer for the last unprotected neighborhood, with expected completion in 2012. Although the project should end sandbagging, it won’t end the need for an emergency manager dealing with a swollen river.
“That job will never disappear in Crookston,” he said. “We’re always going to have an effort in high-water times. You need to close gates, have people manning pumps, deal with stormwater issues and have dike walkers.”
Rock, who became the fire chief in 1996 and added the emergency manager job in 2004 when Floyd Spence retired, fits a common profile of a flood-fighting leader. Many are longtime residents of their community, bringing institutional knowledge to the effort. And a disproportionate share are firefighters, volunteers and salaried.
“Firemen get a lot of training,” Rock said. “And whenever they’re called upon, they’ll do whatever is necessary to complete the job.”
Also, like most flood battles, it’s not a dictatorship. Decisions come through consensus.
“We have a team effort where all the city’s department heads meet,” he said. “Recommendations come from everyone in the group. None are bad and all are considered.”
Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to email@example.com.