As Minot grows, so does the workload for Minot Fire Department officials who fight fires by preventing them.
Keeping up with regular schedule of inspecting commercial buildings for potential hazards has become more difficult for the department, officials say. Instead of annual inspections of each commercial building or apartment complex, it can be a year and a half between inspections and that time has been lengthening.
"We don't have enough resources to do all the apartment buildings. We just do the larger ones," said fire inspector Jon Squires, who aims for 1,250 inspections a year. "If I can get that many done, then I will have done what I can do. I am making sure I am pushing myself to get as many in as I can."
Brent Weber explains features of a city fire truck to preschool children at
Escuela Sept. 24. Assisting is Mitch Tomlinson.
The Minot City Council added salary for a second fire inspector in the 2013 budget. The department wants to get someone on the job as soon as possible next year, through either promoting from within or hiring from outside. How quickly the new person jumps into the duties will depend on any extra certifications that must be obtained first.
"I am confident if we had two people we would do more than double because you could work together," Squires said. "It's more than just doubling your efforts. There's cooperation in working together. Minot may be able to do every business in a year and maybe find things that have been pushed to the side because they are less of a risk."
Fire marshal Ed Hausauer agreed that there are efficiencies with two people just by stationing them in different parts of town to save on travel time on the city's busy streets.
As current fire inspector, Squires inspects existing commercial structures, with some review of new construction. Hausauer handles many of the inspections of new buildings, which can entail multiple visits during the course of a project's construction. Fire inspections include a variety of reviews, from testing sprinklers to checking firewall seals and alarm functioning.
Operations such as child-care facilities and liquor establishments require the inspections annually to maintain their licenses. Hausauer said some higher risk operations should be inspected more often than once a year. Although the oil industry has been conscientious about its facilities, the additional oil-field chemicals and explosives being stored in the city warrant more monitoring, he said.
The role of the fire inspector includes public education through presentations to school students, community groups or in public settings. The fire department has a booth set up and a fire truck on display at Dakota Square Mall this week.
"We don't want people to have a fire," Squires said. "One of the better strategies for keeping fire from happening is to let people know what the hazards are."
Regular inspections provide another avenue for education.
"Whenever we do a visit, we try to stress some kind of safety at the same time. Most places, there's something we will find that they have neglected. Sometimes it's simply maintenance," Squires said. "I don't mind taking a little more time at a place if we can affect behavior that makes things safer."
Squires said he typically doesn't issue citations, preferring to see owners fix the problems as quickly as possible. Fines can be as high as $500 a day for not having a fire extinguisher.
Years ago, the fire department offered home inspections by going door to door in sections of town. As time went on, only about a third of people were home so it became unproductive, Squires said.
"It's still listed as one of the top strategies for preventing home fires," he said. The department still will perform home surveys by appointment.
Generally, people are pretty confident of the home's fire safety, but inspectors commonly find hazards, whether it's a gas can stored in the house or clutter in the basement that could fuel a fire, Squires said.
Squires, who has been with the department since 1984, has worked in inspections since the late 1990s. A few years after he joined inspections, the department re-established the inspector job title.
The department also has a fire fighter on each of three daily shifts who are designated to perform inspection duties. However, Chief C.J. Craven said the system no longer works as it did when Minot had a stable department, without the turnover that has left the department short of experienced staff. Now fire fighters cannot be spared from other duties to perform inspections.
Adding another fire inspector will just get the department back to where it was a few years ago, he said.
Hausauer said the department was falling behind in inspections before the oil activity stepped up the pace in the city. Now it is "way behind," he said.
Missed inspections can result in conditions that lead to fires, and many businesses never re-open after that type of setback, Squires said.
Businesses also may have more difficulty collecting on insurance if unsafe conditions existed because inspections weren't done, Hausauer said. If fires occur, inspections become important for fire fighters, whose lives may depend on building safety features working as intended, he said.
Maintaining regular inspections benefits the entire city, Craven said.
"Prevention is the key," he said. "We want to stop fires before they start. That's our job."