‘We want to be there when they call’: Burlington Fire Department makes some changes after big increase in calls

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The Burlington Fire Department has seen a big rise in emergency calls. It relies on volunteers and the increasing need for help is impacting other aspects of their lives.

The department has 22 firefighters, and as volunteers, they all work for free.

“We’ll run mutual aid calls with the area departments, which could consist of anything, but we do dive rescue, water rescue, ice rescue, wildland fires, structure fires, car wrecks, a little bit of everything,” said Fire Chief Karter Lesmann.

In previous years, the department would get 30 to 40 calls a year — but in 2021, they received around 200.

“Some days we’d have four or five calls, and then we might not have one for a while, but it was average like 1.7 calls a day, or something like that,” said Lesmann, “which might not seem like a lot, but when it’s all volunteers and they’re having to leave their regular jobs, it’s putting a strain on them.”

Lesmann says this led to the department requesting the option of having two paid, on-call firefighters on weekends and a place for them to stay.

“Our Board of Directors decided to move forward with us adding basically a sleeping quarter for the on-call people and a little TV room for people to rest, even after some of our longer calls, so they’re not driving home in the middle of the night,” said Lesmann.

All of the items were donated: the beds, the TV, even the materials to build the walls that separate each room.

“It’s nice to know that the community’s invested in us and in return, we want them to know we’re invested in them,” said Lesmann. “We want to be there when they call.”

He says in his 15 plus years at the station, they’ve always been able to meet the needs of the city and surrounding areas.

“We’ve always had enough people,” said Lesmann. “It’s just getting with the call volume where it’s at now, it’s getting harder and harder to get volunteers to be able to leave work.”

Plus, he says the department is always looking for more volunteers.

“We don’t always have to have the people that wanna run into a burning building,” said Lesmann. “There’s a lot more to it than just fighting fire.”

He says fighting fires is the least amount of work that they do…it’s actually the legwork and training that lead up to it.

Lesmann says it’s due mainly to calls related to the drought here in North Dakota. Some of the other calls have been due to keeping up with vehicle crashes.

If you would like to sign up to be a volunteer firefighter with the Burlington Fire Department, call and leave a message at 701-839-5463. You can also pick up an application at the Fire Station on a meeting night, which is the second or fourth Monday of each month at 7:30.

Lesmann also says he would like to thank all the local businesses that donated items to the department:

  • Jessen Roofing, Inc
  • Northwest Projector
  • Conlin’s Furniture
  • I. Keating Furniture
  • Slumberland Furniture
  • Bruns Drywall
  • Burlington Electric
  • Hirshfield’s Paints & Coatings

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