As drought conditions persist in southwest North Dakota, firefighters are constantly suiting up and flying down the road in their red fire trucks to tame the ferocious flames. Dickinson Fire Chief Jeremy Presnell noted that fire personnel are busier compared to previous years.
Presnell briefed the Dickinson City Commission with a March report as well as the high volume of calls the Dickinson Fire Department has responded to in the past few days during a public meeting Tuesday, April 6, at City Hall. As of Monday, April 5, the DFD has responded to 21 calls for service while also providing mutual aid to the Dickinson Rural Fire Department on a few calls. April is proving to already be a busy month for fire personnel with 4.5 to 5 calls per day, Presnell noted.
“Just with the weather conditions not getting better (and we’re) not seeing any moisture, I can just foresee it continuing like it is — if not getting worse,” Presnell remarked. “(With) a lot more grass fires happening, it's going to be a lot more of neighbors relying on neighbors in terms of other departments working together to provide mutual aid to help combat the increased fire danger.”
The DFD recently assisted the Dickinson Rural Fire Department with two different grass fire incidents. One fire claimed a field on the south side April 2 and another fire erupted on the southwest side of Dickinson, burning equipment on a property and part of a wheat field.
Mayor Scott Decker noted at the meeting that the city may have to consider purchasing more efficient gear directed toward fighting grass fires.
“ ... We’re equipped for fighting in the city. We’re not really equipped (for fighting wildfires). And if we’re going to offer assistance, there’s probably a few things that we need to enhance or help some of our firefighters. Their turnout gear that they’re running around out on the prairie is not wildfire gear,” Decker said. “... If this is going to continue all summer, we’re going to definitely pack some of that other equipment.”
Presnell pointed out that the DFD’s uniforms are compliant to fight grass fires. However, the department lacks the shirts and lighter helmets that are equipped to deal with grass fire conditions. With grass fires, Presnell said the flames move much faster than a burning building, for example.
“Fighting grass fires is a lot different than fighting a structure fire, which is what we’re more set up for. And we only have one apparatus, or one fire truck, set up to fight grass fires. It’s able to drive and pump at the same time whereas the rest of our structural apparatus, once they’re parked and you get the pump in, they’re stationary and do not move,” he said.
Currently, Stark County is under a burn ban, and all burning including outdoor/backyard fire pits, fireplaces and chimineys are prohibited. Gas grills or pellet smokers are allowed.
With the weather warming up, the DFD has responded to several calls of backyard and fire pit burning, Presnell said, adding that people should respect the burn ban as the county is under a high fire rating. Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger also noted at the meeting that the Dickinson Police Department is trying to educate the community and has a zero tolerance to any individual violating the burn ban.
MORE CALLS FOR SERVICE IN MARCH THAN AVERAGE
In March, the DFD responded to 55 calls for service, marking it at 202 calls for 2021. Presnell noted that this amount of calls is up by 26% from 2020’s calls for service.
The DFD responded to calls ranging from 17 emergency medical service incidents, 13 false alarms/false calls, 10 service calls, seven good intent calls, four fires and three hazardous condition incidents. Good intent calls are when firefighters are dispatched and canceled en route, if fire personnel find nothing upon arrival or when something is mistaken for smoke when called in, Prensell explained.
Located at 25 Second Ave. W., Station 1 responded to the majority of the calls south of Interstate 94 at 33 calls for service, or 61% of the total calls. Station 2, which is located within the City of Dickinson Public Safety Center north of State Avenue, responded to 21 calls or 39% of the total calls for service in March.
The DFD’s response times in March averaged at 6 minutes per call at Station 1, compared to 7 minutes and 30 seconds at Station 2. Moving forward, Presnell noted previously at the Commission Retreat that the standard time is 5 minutes and 20 seconds from the moment the fire department receives a call to arriving at the location. Fire crews have just 1 minute, 20 seconds to get dressed and travel to the scene.
Throughout the week, the DFD is busiest between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays but it varies, Presnell said, adding that calls for service are fairly spread out.
As fire personnel are always educating themselves, the DFD completed 600 hours of training, which is equivalent to approximately 25-26 hours per member. Each fire personnel member at the DFD is required to complete at least 16 hours per month to maintain the department’s Class III rating.
When the oil boom hit, the DFD saw a strain on its personnel, which included mainly volunteers. Now with more full-time firefighters, Presnell hopes to add a few more firefighters to the team to have more bodies on the ground fighting fires to avoid a burnout.
“I think burnouts are always going to be a concern. But with a full-time staff, there's probably going to be a little less. We're still not at a point where burnout is going to be eliminated. It's taxing running one to two calls a day to now; we're up around five or six for the month of April in a day. So, it's taxing. Luckily, our community is very supportive of our volunteers. Some businesses allow their employees or volunteers to leave, but there's going to be a breaking point eventually.”
For information on how to prevent wildfires, or to view maps showing current burn ban restrictions and fire danger levels, visit www.ndresponse.gov.