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Growing population strains Dickinson's emergency services

Emergency services are feeling the strain of population growth in Dickinson.

The Dickinson Fire Department and the Dickinson Police Department have each seen a steady increase in calls over the past five years -- the years Dickinson has been affected by the latest oil boom.

When comparing one month to the next, or even the same month to the previous year, there isn't much of a stark contrast, Fire Chief Bob Sivak said.

"We knew we were busy," he said. "When we went back five years and we looked at that five-year comparison ... that was a real eye-opener."

There was an 83 percent growth in calls to service from 2009 to 2012, Sivak said.

The police department experienced a 31 percent growth in calls in that same time period, from 18,960 in 2009 to 24,848, according to the agency's 2012 annual report.

That includes traffic stops and writing parking tickets, but also serious crimes like fights or drug offenses. Fight calls showed the most dramatic increase, from 28 in 2010 to 162 in 2012 -- more than five times as many.

"We're keeping up with the calls for service," Dickinson police Capt. Joe Cianni said. "The city has been allocated staff and other resources to keep us pretty much where we need to be with staffing levels."

The police department experienced a 71 percent increase in traffic stops from 2009 to 2012, according to the annual report.

Methamphetamine has posed problems for both the fire and police departments in Dickinson.

"There were a total of 53.7 grams of meth seized with an approximate street value of over $16,000," Dickinson police Chief Dustin Dassinger told the City Commission on Monday.

In 2012, the police department had 36 meth cases for the substance and paraphernalia. The fire department responded to meth lab explosions.

"Training is more important than ever to our department" Sivak told the commission on Monday. "Not only are we seeing an increase in calls for service, some cases we're seeing incidents we've not seen before."

The police department is in a constant state of hiring, Cianni said.

"Some of the biggest challenges we're facing right now is still retaining and recruiting employees and staff for the department," he said.

Though the population has grown, Sivak said the size of the fire department has stayed steady in his 30 years here.

"We have been able to replace members that we are losing," he said. "But we have not been able to significantly grow our members."

Its biggest challenge of late is finding volunteers who can leave work if called out.

"For the first time, I had a call from an employer last year who's very supportive of the fire department -- very supportive of the department, they have employees on the department," Sivak said. "But it was through an exceptionally busy week and the employer asked, 'How many times do I have to let this guy go, it's beginning to impact me?'"

He doesn't see the department changing from volunteer to full time any time soon, but has put in a request for more full-time workers.

At the end of December 2012, the police department had 34 officers -- four more than it had to start the year -- according to the annual report.

It was authorized to add two officers in 2013, Cianni said. If fully staffed in 2013, the department will have 38 sworn officers.

"It does pose challenges because we have a young department, meaning there's a lot of officers coming to us with no experience," he said.

Not only has Dickinson grown in population, the commission annexed in hundreds of acres in 2012, adding miles to coverage areas.

Dickinson's police department has seen a change in response times and noticed wear and tear on their vehicles, Cianni said.

There are several areas of the city that are outside of the Insurance Service Office standards recommended area, Sivak said.

"In our case, we are being impacted not only by the longer travel distances as Dickinson grows outward, but the traffic density is something we've never seen before," he said.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
(701) 456-1206
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