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Letter: West Fargo response times good

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After an article and editorial in The Forum regarding response times for the West Fargo Fire Department, we must respond to accusations to ease concerns the residents of our community may have.

In May, a Forum reporter requested information pertaining to response times. The information was sent to him by the fire chief. After his analysis, he contacted the chief to say that some of the times were inconsistent and asked for an explanation. There were approximately 600 responses for the time period that was being analyzed. The chief worked with the assistant chief responsible for data entry, and with personnel at Red River Regional Dispatch, to try to determine why times were coming out the way they were.

Departments differ

The records management system that all emergency response agencies in Cass and Clay counties use has been in operation for 2½ years. The same fire records system is used for fully paid fire departments and volunteer departments in both counties. What works well for a paid department may not necessarily work the same for a volunteer department. Paid departments, for the most part, know from one response to the next which of their apparatus will be responding. Therefore, they can set their computerized fire records for the truck they know will respond.

In a volunteer department like West Fargo, we determine which apparatus will respond based on location, such as: Is it a city call or a rural call? Will we need an engine, pickup grass rig or tankers for water supply? At times, there were apparatus that responded where times had to be entered manually. This is where discrepancies showed up.

Discrepencies

After reviewing information from Central Dispatch and working with our assistant chief, we were able to explain some of the discrepancies. Yes, there were data entry mistakes. But at no time was there an attempt to falsify or fabricate times to mislead.

Within the past year, the Insurance Services Office conducted a Public Protection Classification survey. The classification is used by the insurance industry to determine premiums it charges policyholders. ISO looked at every aspect of our operation including equipment, testing, training, public inspection and education. The results showed that we improved one ISO grade from a 5 to a 4 (on a rating scale of 1-10 with 1 being the best), which ranks the West Fargo Fire Department within the top 17 percent of full-time and volunteer fire departments in the United States. The results of this improved rating means less expensive property insurance premiums for West Fargo.

False comparison?

We will always be more concerned about meeting ISO standards than worrying about a reporter’s analysis. Yet the question is asked by The Forum: “How are fire insurance rates affected by slower-than-average response time?” What are the “average response times”? Are we being compared to the full-time departments? Our times are not going be as fast as paid departments, but we still do a very good job of having the first truck rolling in a short time.

The Forum also suggests that it is time for West Fargo to go to a full-time department. We operate out of two fire stations. In order to have enough personnel to fully man one engine at each station, we will need eight firefighters per shift. It takes three shifts to have 24/7 coverage: a total of 24 firefighters. Salaries and benefits alone would be approximately $1.5 million per year. Our contract with the city would increase from $650,000 per year to more than $2 million per year.

We are proud of our volunteer firefighters and the service they provide the city of West Fargo and its residents, which they have been doing for 75 years. We want to assure everyone that our firefighters will respond to all emergencies as quickly and safely as possible.

The writers comprise the board of directors,

West Fargo Fire Department

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