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Officials say Grand Forks needs a new fire hall to cover new growth

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It takes Grand Forks firefighters a minute longer on average to get to a fire in the city’s rapidly growing southeast compared to the city as a whole mostly because there isn’t a nearby fire hall.

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That will change with the new $2.4 million fire hall on track to open in 2016 just down the road from Choice Health and Fitness.

Fire Chief Peter O’Neill said time is of the essence because a fire doubles in size with every passing minute. These days, buildings are typically made with lightweight material that burns more easily, he said.

Response time matters in medical calls as well, and firefighters respond far more frequently to those than fires.

O’Neill said that if a firefighter can perform CPR within five minutes of someone having a heart attack, that person’s chance of survival is one in four. If they can administer defibrillation within six minutes, that person’s chance of survival jumps to one in three.

“We can have a real profound effect on the outcome of a patient,” he said.

“With the growth on the south, I understand the need for (a new fire hall),” said Joe Kriewald, who lives near 40th Avenue South and South Cherry Street.

There were two fires recently on his block, not even a mile from where the new fire hall will be located, he said.

Response times

On average, Grand Forks firefighters responded to calls from the city’s southeast in 5 minutes 7 seconds, almost a minute longer than the citywide average response time of 4 minutes 15 seconds, according to fire department data.

The new fire hall will be at the corner of South Washington Street and 47th Avenue South, and O’Neill said he expects it will help the fire department reach its goal of responding to nine out of 10 calls within five minutes of the call being made.

From July 2013 to this past July, the Grand Forks Fire Department responded to about two-thirds of calls within five minutes, according to department data. But in the city’s southeast, firefighters responded within five minutes only about 45 percent of the time.

Currently the closest fire department to the southeast is Fire Station 3, nestled behind Walmart on South Columbia Road.

In the southeastern-most part of the city — south of 22nd Avenue South and east of South Cherry Street — it took firefighters more than five minutes to respond to a call about 80 percent of the time.

Growing south

“With more and more people moving into this area, I think it’s going to be critically important,” said City Administrator Todd Feland of the new fire hall.

There are about 2,600 housing units already in existence or under construction east of South Columbia Road and south of 40th Avenue South, with almost as many units — about 2,700 — slated to be built or planned, according to city data.

With a new elementary school under construction on 43rd Avenue South, a proposed Hugo’s across the street from the new fire hall and Altru Specialty Center now in operation on South Washington Street, the city’s expansion south is picking up momentum.

“I think (the new station) is coming at a right time and a right place,” Feland said. “It’s in an area that’s primed to grow.”

With the architectural firm EAPC putting the finishing touches on the design of the fire hall, the city is planning to start the bidding process for a construction firm this winter, said City Council member Terry Bjerke.

Construction crews are slated to start work in spring 2015. Twelve firefighters will be hired in 2016 — the first time the fire department has increased staffing levels since 1972 — and the station should be open in April or May 2016.

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