FARGO — Calls for medical emergencies and fires have continued to increase for the Fargo Fire Department as the city continues to grow.

Fire Chief Steve Dirksen told city commissioners on Monday night, April 5, that the trend is continuing in the first part of 2021.

In 2020, the department saw the highest number of calls for emergency medical situations, at 7,312, he said. The largest number of calls were for the downtown area, and the calls were up 17% overall last year.

In all, calls for service were at 12,930, up from 11,563 in 2019. In the last decade, the calls have almost tripled from 4,785 in 2011.

Actual fires in the city last year were 246, with the leading causes of structure fires being cooking in kitchens and improper extinguishing of smoking materials on balconies, Dirksen said. The third largest numbers of fires were in garages.

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There were 13 more arson cases in 2020 than in the previous year, with a total of 37. Vehicle fires were down, though, with just two reported.

The financial losses from fires were up substantially last year to $6 million, but Dirksen said that was because of the fire that destroyed Elim Rehab & Care Center and its attached day care in south Fargo, as well as two apartment buildings being gutted.

He said he felt the nursing home response was an example of how various agencies worked together to save the 111 residents and children in the day care, with all of the residents finding a place to stay by the next day.

The department continued to fall short of its response time goals, but the chief said they are working to improve.

For medical calls, the average response time was 8 minutes and 3 seconds, compared to a goal of 6 minutes, Dirksen said.

For fire calls, the average response time for the first truck was 7 minutes and 17 seconds compared to a goal of 6 minutes and 20 seconds, he said. For all needed units to arrive at a fire the average time was 11 minutes and 2 seconds compared to a goal of 10 minutes and 20 seconds.

That goal, the national standard they strive to meet is "very high," Dirksen and city officials agreed.

When asked how response times could improve, Dirksen said the new fire station in south Fargo could help, as well as perhaps having more people stationed downtown where the growing number of residents and people is resulting in more calls for emergency medical assistance.

Commissioner John Strand said the amount of apartment fires left him wondering whether the city was up to speed on fire codes and inspections.

Dirksen replied that the answer was easily "yes" and that by far the city is a leader in North Dakota in updating and inspecting for code violations. He said a new version of various codes is currently being finalized.

In other incident numbers last year, the report showed there were about 130 hazardous material calls, about 45 technical rescues in trenches or confined spaces and three water rescues.

The chief said he was also proud of how all of the fire stations were able to stay open during the pandemic except for one 12-hour time period in one station for deep cleaning after a coronavirus case. He also reported that 93% of the department's 123 employees have been vaccinated.

"Despite the disruption to our normal operations, our team continued to deliver high levels of service to the community in 2020," he said.

In proof of that, Dirksen said, the Commission on Fire Accreditation International gave the department a passing grade for the third year in a row, and the Insurance Services Office continues to give the city its top rating which can help with homeowners insurance rates.