West Fargo Fire’s Five-Year Strategic Plan Focusing on Health, Staffing and Response Times

WEST FARGO, N.D. — The most dangerous part of a firefighter’s job isn’t always the blaze they’re battling.

“It’s in the soot, it gets everywhere, unless you wash yourself off, it’s not coming off. You ingest it, you inhale it, over the course of 20 years, that’s what can kill you rather than having something happen to you at a fire,” said West Fargo Fire Chief Dan Fuller.

In May, one of these nearly $14,000 washing machines was installed at each of West Fargo’s fire departments to get rid of carcinogens. It’s one of 11 strategies the department is putting in place.

The changes are recommended by the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Lavender Ribbon Report.

“Next year we have 30 new sets of bunker gear coming in so every firefighter have clean sets of gear all the time,” Fuller said.

Fuller says recent studies done in San Francisco and Chicago show 63 percent of firefighters are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than the average person.

Next month, the city will start covering  cancer prevention physicals for volunteer firefighters.

But cutting down on a  possible  cancer diagnosis will also come with some new policies.

“Like making sure that we’re decontaminating ourselves on scene, we’re not riding with that stuff in the truck when we come back to the fire hall, that we’re not exposing ourselves to this,” Fuller said.

The five–year plan is also meant to fix challenges West Fargo Fire faces when it comes to staffing.

“It’s not necessarily that we don’t have enough people to staff. The number one goal is to balance expectations with what a part–time firefighter can actually do,” Fuller said.

Fuller says adding more fire stations will also be an important part of keeping response times low.

“We know we will always have on–call, paid firefighters here but having a station that may be located nearby in a smaller section of town, we can have firefighters decrease their reaction time by going to the fire station rather than coming to this one,” Fuller said.

The West Fargo Fire Department says about 70 percent of calls it responds to are medical emergencies.

The other 30 percent are fires.

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