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Published March 29, 2009, 12:19 AM

Emergency responders at the ready

As the Red River took a slight dip Saturday, a slew of Fargo dike emergency responders stood at the ready, in case the Red was to deal flood fighters a surprise blow.

By: Mila Koumpilova, INFORUM

As the Red River took a slight dip Saturday, a slew of Fargo dike emergency responders stood at the ready, in case the Red was to deal flood fighters a surprise blow.

The city is prepared to deploy four different kinds of emergency-response teams, from two-person Fire Department “strike teams” ready to combat seepage with water pumps to heavy-response teams of National Guard members equipped with dump trucks and bulldozers. And Saturday, the city acquired a new flood-fighting tool – giant sandbags that can be lowered onto dike breaches.

Fargo Police Lt. Pat Claus said the teams’ presence shouldn’t alarm residents: “It’s not that we necessarily expect anything. These teams are just there if something should happen.”

If residents or dike monitors from the National Guard spot problems with dikes, they would call the Fargo Emergency Operations Center at (701) 476-4007. Depending on the severity of the issue, the city would dispatch a number of its different response teams.

Fargo city officials are still asking residents to limit travel so response teams can get to their destinations swiftly.

The city has five Fire Department strike teams and nine quick-response teams, made up of 20 or so Guard members and a firefighter, Claus said. The quick-response teams have trucks with dirt, sand and sandbags and other equipment at their disposal to address breaches.

“You build a ring around the breach,” explained Fargo City Engineer Mark Bittner.

The city also has four so-called sandbag-response teams, fleets of flatbed semis loaded with sandbags they could ferry to breach locations with Fargo Police escorts.

“We’re just hanging out here until something blows,” said driver Mike Tondini, who was watching a CNN crest graphic on the big screens at the Fargodome, one of the sandbag-team launch sites. “Then, we would get there as fast as we can and start dropping bags.”

Finally, the city has two heavy-response teams.

Then, there were the 1-ton sandbags the city received Saturday from the National Guard – 20 to 30 of them, according to Vice Mayor Tim Mahoney. The so-called “sand baskets,” of a variety used in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, can be lowered onto problem areas by helicopter or heavy equipment.

“The helicopter would hook up to it and carefully lower it to where there is a breach,” said Bill Prokopyk, North Dakota National Guard public information officer, of the oversized sandbags.

He said the sandbags were stored at Fargo’s Discovery and Lincoln schools as well as at the Air National Guard base. “We can quickly grab them and put them where they need to be,” Prokopyk said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529

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