Brian Paulson, chief of the Jamestown Fire Department, says 9/11 had a lasting effect on the department.
“Myself along with our veteran crew, we were pretty early in our careers in the fire service,” he said, recalling the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001. “When you think, like terrorism, we typically didn’t see it happening to our first responders. And so to see that type of thing happen to our EMS and police department and the fire service, it really struck home to what kind of role we do play if something like that were to happen here.”
He said they woke up.
“You don’t know what you might be running into,” Paulson said. “I watched just like everybody else the events unfold on that day. When the first tower collapsed, my first thought was ‘Wow, how many emergency responders did we just lose.’ … and so that was kind of … a moment of how serious this business can be and what we might get called upon to do or respond to. How quickly things can turn into something tragic like that.”
That brought things sharply into focus, he said.
“... I think for a department, for us, it really made us focus on building; building our response capabilities, whether it’s buying equipment, training,” Paulson said. “Those all kind of go hand in hand. You get new equipment, you got to train. I think we as a department kind of really started taking the job a lot more serious - took our responsibilities a lot more serious than probably it was before.”
He said that could probably be said for all agencies.
“It threw a new element of training and a new element of preparedness,” he said.
Before 9/11, there were grant programs but they were not well funded, he said, and it was more difficult to get them. After 9/11, Paulson said the federal government infused a lot of money into grant programs for readiness.
“We saw the gear that we use day to day shift, more so for weapons of mass destruction and that stuff got very expensive real quick,” he said.
With more federal money available to build up the federal response to terrorism, Paulson said JRFD took advantage of available federal grants to bolster equipment and resources. Other departments in the state were doing the same thing, he said.
“We kind of went on the proactive approach of updating our equipment because the way things kind of unfolded for preparedness for local agencies, this could very well have happened here,” Paulson said. “Terrorism - everybody was on edge of ‘what’s next.’”
He said one of the first initial steps was getting a lot of gear updated and he thinks that was designed by the federal government also, to make sure everyone was capable of responding and well equipped.
“And then another aspect of that was training,” Paulson said. “They really ramped up training, federal response training, large events training for operational officers.”
The focus was on training leaders so they could be better prepared for incidents. For the firefighters, they made sure everyone had proper, quality training, Paulson said.
“And I think the state of North Dakota, the North Dakota Firefighters Association also really stepped up their game in making sure everybody had quality training and certifications for these types of things,” he said.
Paulson said he feels local agencies have a good working relationship, a relationship built long before 9/11 through such ways as the Stutsman County Local Emergency Planning Committee, which includes representatives from a number of agencies. LEPC meetings quarterly, and Jerry Bergquist, the former Stutsman County emergency manager, was a “great communicator,” Paulson said. Relationships were taken to a new level through training together, he said.
“When you have that during responses things tend to run pretty smooth,” he said.
JRFD, which has 30 firefighters as of this writing, provides coverage for 828 square miles involving 22 townships. Paulson notes their coverage area includes BNSF, U.S. Highway 281/52 and the Spiritwood industrial park.
“We got a lot of expectations for us,” he said.
JRFD is funded by 5 mills paid by taxpayers in its 22-township coverage area. Voters in their coverage area in 2018 also approved up to 5 mills in property taxes for the department’s $2.9 million fire station project, which will end when the U.S. Department of Agriculture loan is paid. The building is located at 1209 9th St. SE.
“At some point, we knew we were going to outgrow where we were at (previously),” he said.
Paulson thanked the community for its support and said the department strives to be professional and prepared. JRFD has had a record number of calls this year with multiple grass fires during the peak of the drought.
“We’ve got great people,” he said.