FARGO — Fargo's Fire Department hasn't reached a dream goal of response time to calls, but it's still recognized as one of the top 100 departments in the nation.
Fire Chief Steve Dirksen's 2019 report shows 221 fires, while almost 57% or 6,545 of the department's 11,563 calls were medical assistance responses.
Dirksen said a national group's response time standards are extremely high and that the goal for Fargo is six minutes all across the city 90% of the time.
The response time lasts from the time of the 911 call to the dispatcher alerting firefighters to traveling to the location.
Currently, the department of 108 firefighters has reached the goal 60% of the time.
They are much closer overall on fire calls at an average of 7 minutes for the first unit to arrive. For medical emergency situations, the average response time is 8 minutes and 24 seconds. Those responses can take longer because dispatchers need more time to figure out what type of medical problem a caller is experiencing whereas a fire call is more immediate.
When more units are needed on a call, the average time for other units to arrive is 11 minutes and 43 seconds, while the goal is 10 minutes and 20 seconds.
Dirksen said in an interview after his report was given to the Fargo City Commission this past week that he doubts very few departments reach the 6-minute response time goal nationwide. "Maybe a few of those smaller communities," he said. "We are very comparable to other departments our size across the nation."
Overall, the report shows calls continue to increase across the city.
"We're getting more and more people and the complexity of the calls is growing, too," Dirksen said when presenting the report to city commissioners.
He is proud that the 117-year-old department ranks as one of 348 "elite" departments out of 48,855 across the country. The ratings by the national Insurance Service Office involve a comprehensive review of operations as well as on water supply and emergency communication systems.
Fargo also stacked up well in property losses from fires last year, with a total loss of only $2.4 million, while Dirksen said the average for a city this size is from $4.5 million to $6.5 million.
He believes fire code inspections on 5,599 businesses and 646 apartment buildings last year were helpful in reducing losses, as well as conducting educational child and adult fire prevention programs.
Of the fires last year, the top three involved 80 structures, 52 passenger vehicles and 28 dumpster or outside fires.
A vast majority or 134 were accidents, with 24 unintentionally started and 43 undetermined. Dirksen said no cases of proven arson occurred in the city last year.
Cooking and smoking material fires continue to be the most common cause of structure fires in the city.
Most medical and fire calls continue to be in the downtown zone, one of nine developed by the department in the city, with 3,435 last year or 12% of the total calls.
Dirksen said the West Acres area, however, continues to see a steady increase and reached the 2,000-call mark this year for the first time. Also growing are calls in the Northport mall area of the city in north Fargo.
Dirksen also sees more cooperation with West Fargo department as it hires more full-time firefighters because they could respond quicker in some instances.