West Fargo fire department will have 14 full-time employees, increasing taxes but also fire protection
WEST FARGO—Residents here will start the new year with a new-look fire department.
After more than 70 years with all-volunteer firefighters, the West Fargo Fire Department will have 14 full-time personnel starting Jan. 1.
Fire Chief Dan Fuller began making changes earlier this year to create a 58-member hybrid department, with 14 full-time employees, including administrators, and 44 volunteer firefighters.
The move was meant to keep up with city growth and reduce lengthy response times.
On Monday, West Fargo City Commissioners approved the final contract for fire services, which is still managed by a separate organization, which has a seven-member board, one of whom is an appointed city commissioner.
The transition means a budget increase. Taxpayers will contribute about $1.1 million to the fire department's $1.6 million total budget, which will pay for the salaries and benefits of the new full-time staff.
"The fire department will still pay for all of its own equipment," said City Administrator Tina Fisk. "The city's HR will manage and pay employees and benefits. Everything else will stay with the fire department."
In 2017, the city contributed about $750,000 for fire services. Fuller said West Fargo residents will pay $45.48 each for fire services in 2018, half the cost of what residents pay for fire services in Fargo or Moorhead.
As a volunteer department, about two-thirds of West Fargo fire responses took longer than 9 minutes. Department guidelines call for no more than 10 percent of calls to take that long.
Calls to West Fargo's fire department are on the rise. According to the department's 2016 annual report, fire volunteers responded to 406 calls for service, most of which were alarm calls. Of those 406 calls for service, 38 occurred in the rural areas and 368 occurred in the city.
Fuller said 2017 has had more calls. As of Monday, Dec. 18, the fire department had responded to 482 calls.
The chief has said he thinks increased traffic in the growing city is slowing responses, as is where volunteers live and work relative to the closest fire station. Fuller said that in the 1980s and 1990s, most firefighters lived within a 10-block radius of their fire station. Today, most live or work about 4 miles from the nearest station, he said.
Homes in cities with an all-volunteer department sometimes pay higher home insurance premiums. Fuller said the hybrid department could reduce premiums, but it varies by insurance companies.
"We are anticipating we go down an ISO rating, from four to three, which is better for homeowner rates," Fuller said. "The staffing is a big part. So is training and documentation of our efforts."
Two teams of four firefighters and a battalion chief will work from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. They will be stationed at the Southside Fire Station, which is just off Sheyenne Street north of 32nd Avenue West. The fire chief and administrative staff will remain stationed at the Central Fire Station, 106 1st St.