Snow, hospital challenge fire departmentAs with the Boy Scouts, the motto for firefighters is “be prepared” and Jim Reuther, Jamestown’s fire chief of seven months, has already had two big challenges in being ready for the unexpected. One comes from human action, and nature provided the other.
By: By Toni Pirkl, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
As with the Boy Scouts, the motto for firefighters is “be prepared” and Jim Reuther, Jamestown’s fire chief of seven months, has already had two big challenges in being ready for the unexpected. One comes from human action, and nature provided the other.
Having enjoyed a number of relatively mild winters, residents of Jamestown, like other North Dakotans, were not ready for the snowiest, coldest winter in years. But for the fire department, being unprepared isn’t an option and a winter like this one presents the potential for problems for emergency responders. For one thing, fighting fires in frigid temperatures is dangerous for everyone involved.
“We’ve been very fortunate this winter. We’ve not had any incidents during the very cold nights,” Reuther said.
That’s just one problem posed by the unusual winter. Snow is another. Reuther said he started to get really worried about snow when the first blizzard struck.
“What would we do if there was a fire? We knew we needed to have a plan,” he said.
Contrary to most assumptions, fire trucks don’t negotiate well through snow-drifted roads. And getting stuck or sliding off the road aren’t options when you’re on your way to a fire, he said.
So when the second blizzard was predicted, the firefighters were ready.
“We had a front-end loader from the city standing by to get us out and to plow the road for us,” Reuther said. “Then a crew of us stayed at the Fire Hall overnight in case we were called out.”
Luckily, there was no fire call that night or the following day. And the fire department now has a plan, revamped from an old one, to work today.
“We never know when we’re going to be called out, so we need to be prepared,” Reuther said.
However, he doesn’t know how to prepare for a new hospital on an unimproved site just at the edge of current fire protection boundaries. He and City Engineer Reed Schwartzkopf have been among those providing input into the infrastructure and emergency response needs surrounding construction of a new facility.
“We’ve been involved in all these discussions about the hospital infrastructure,” Schwartzkopf said.
The new hospital plan is wreaking havoc with the fire department’s long-range planning. The department’s plan has a third fire station going up in the northeast part of town in the future. That’s where the future growth of the city has long been expected to be.
“This (the new hospital) threw a big twist in our planning,” Reuther said. “Right now, the northeast is covered, but if it expands, we’d need that third station. With the hospital, we could grow in two directions.”
The new hospital is planned for a site in the southwest near the U.S. Highway 281 Bypass. The site’s not presently in the city limits, though the city will be asked to annex it. Reuther said the fire department’s plan is to maintain two stations, although only one is manned. Currently, the two provide adequate fire protection for the city. As a third station is not planned at this time, moving one station to provide fire protection for the hospital is the only option.
“But if we move it that could ruin the coverage,” he said.
The station at the bottom of Mill Hill would be very close to the limit in reaching as far as the hospital where it is now. Moving it closer to the new facility could leave a gap in coverage in the valley. It’s all about distance and response time for the fire department as well as the ambulance service and police department. The fire department adds another wrinkle to providing service. It needs a water supply with sufficient volume and pressure to fight a fire. The site presently has no city services.
Schwartzkopf said the city includes those of the emergency services with its other concerns.
“It’s a location, location, location issue,” he said. “Infrastructure and access are questions brought up by the city. There are also issues of health and safety.”
Moving the Mill Hill Fire Station or building a third one near the new hospital is going to end up a community decision. Neither is a cheap option, Reuther and Schwarzkopf said. A bare shell of a building, with heat, could cost up to $325,000.
“And that doesn’t include any equipment,” Reuther said.
“Any expansion of city limits puts more pressure on emergency services,” Schwartzkopf added.
Sun reporter Toni Pirkl can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org