Despite a significant increase in call volume, Battalion Chief Bruce Weymier says the Grand Forks Fire Department is stronger than ever and has even cut response times in some parts of town by up to two minutes.
Weymier said the department also has added additional training, updated technology and received national recognition for exceeding standards since the department opened Fire Station 5, on the city's south side, three years ago. The project cost $4.3 million total.
The department added 12 new firefighters in 2016 to staff the new station, which was the first time since 1972 -- 44 years -- that the department grew in staff size.
Weymier said the addition massively impacted how quickly crews are able to respond to emergencies because the “neighborhood station,” located at 1002 47th Ave. S., is able to reach the south side of Grand Forks faster. A large amount of land was annexed into the south side of the city during the 1990s and Station 5 was created to address the growing neighborhoods on that end of Grand Forks.
Station 3, 1124 DeMers Ave., responded to calls in the southern portion of town before Station 5 was built. Since the station was farther away from the calls, the response time was longer. Weymier said it took anywhere from four and a half to six minutes to respond to calls. Now it takes an average of three minutes, 43 seconds to respond to a call within the area. Also, crews now can generally get anywhere in the city within four minutes, five seconds.
“If you were having an emergency it felt like a long time for us to get to you,” he said. “Now with this station, we’re getting anywhere, even the furthest spot in our area within three minutes and 43 seconds.”
National Fire Protection Association standards call for crews to be dressed and ready to respond to EMS calls within 60 seconds and to fire calls within 80 seconds. Weymier said Grand Forks firefighters are often much faster than those times and some can even be fully outfitted in their fire suits within 34 seconds. The truck generally rolls out of the station within a minute during the day and a minute and a half during the night, Weymier said.
The number of calls in Grand Forks has trended upward for decades, and Weymier said there has been a 12% increase in calls so far this year. Firefighters responded to 5,114 incidents in 2018, Weymier said. Five years prior there were 4,005 calls and in 2008 the department responded to 3,443 calls, according to the 2013 annual report.
When Weymier joined the Grand Forks Fire Department 21 years ago, he said there were about 2,000 calls per year.
The department was the first in the state last year to receive a Class 1 rating from the Insurance Safety Office, which Weymier said is a tremendous honor. The department is one of 392 nationwide to receive the rating.
“It basically means we’re the cream of the crop,” Weymier said.
The rating is a combination between performance of the fire department, water department and 911 call center. Fargo received a Class 1 rating this year, Weymier said.
A new technology system installed during 2017 displays incidents on a TV live as they come in from dispatchers at the Public Safety Answering Point to cut talk time and increase response times.
Weymier said crews are busier as call volume increases, but he doesn’t foresee any staff or station additions in the near future. There are 78 people in the department and 69 who work in suppression, which Weymier said means they directly put out fires or oversee those who do.
Crews maintain the building and equipment along with completing training and going on calls daily. The department is there to help the community in any way possible, Weymier said, from rescuing ducklings out of a storm drain, grabbing cats from trees to helping at a fatal car wreck.
“Sometimes you go on calls where you help people and make people smile and sometimes you go on calls where you make them cry,” he said.