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GFFD proposes new fire station

The Grand Forks Fire Department is proposing a new fire station in the city's growing southeast along with a property tax increase to pay for more firefighters.

The Grand Forks Fire Department is proposing a new fire station in the city's growing southeast along with a property tax increase to pay for more firefighters.

Most of the new homes and businesses there are far enough from the nearest fire station that firefighters cannot consistently be on the scene within four minutes, a national standard for fire departments, Battalion Chief Kelli Flermoen told City Council members Tuesday.

That standard reflects the fact that today's cheap and light building material burn hotter, doing more damage in a shorter time, she said.

The council discussed the matter, but did not vote; they won't do so until the full budget is available in the fall.

The city now has four fire stations manned by 57 firefighters, enough to ensure a minimum of 14 on duty around the clock. The fire department is asking for a fifth fire station and 12 more firefighters, which ensures a minimum staffing of 18.

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Fire Chief Pete O'Neill said there hasn't been an increase in the number of firefighters in Grand Forks for 40 years.

According to city staff, the fifth fire station would protect 2,200 homes and apartment buildings worth $472.6 million, most of them now outside of the four-minute response zone. In addition, city staff projected that another 2,000 units could be added in the future.

It'll cost taxpayers roughly $1.5 million for the fire station, $315,000 for the fire engine and $1.2 million a year for additional firefighters. The fire station would be paid through existing funds set aside for new buildings. But the rest would have to come out of property tax.

Mayor Mike Brown is proposing a four-mill increase, raised by a mill a year over four years. That's a total increase of $18 for every $100,000 value of a home.

The new fire station would be operational in 2016.

Council members discussed various ways to avoid having to pay for more firefighters, some struggling with the fraction of the total firefighters that can be on duty at a time.

But most seemed willing to accept that the increased expense was necessary after Fire Chief Pete O'Neill explained the arcane staffing procedure, which is affected by the number of hours federal law allows firefighters to be on duty -- It's an average of 53 hours a week, he told the Herald -- and the expected number of firefighters on vacation or sick.

Council member Doug Christensen, who chairs the finance committee, said he's inclined to support the plan. His ward is in the southeast and would benefit, he said.

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Council member Tyrone Grandstrand, who indicated he was in favor of the plan, said the costs of serving far-flung reaches of the city shows that city leaders need to reign in urban sprawl.

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send email to ttran@gfherald.com .

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