Grand Forks/East Grand Forks: Fire Departments in North Dakota to 'Stand Down' and Stress Safety

Firefighters in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks won't be doing all their regularly scheduled work this week. Instead they will take part in a national "stand down" to concentrate on safety training.

It's part of a nationwide "Stand Down for Firefighter Safety," sponsored by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the International Association of Firefighters, said Rick Coulter, battalion chief with the Grand Forks Fire Department.

Today, Wednesday and Thursday, the department will "stand down," to make sure each shift gets to go through the safety emphasis, Coulter said. It won't affect the main work of the firefighters.

"We still will respond to calls," Coulter said. "It's just that instead of our regular training that was planned, it will consist of safety issues, inventory done on protective gear, to see if it needs patching, and talking about various safety issues."

The department has 57 firefighters who go "on the line," plus four fire marshals, and five administrative employees, including the Chief Peter O'Neill.

The East Grand Forks Fire Department, with 11 paid firefighters and about 21 volunteers, also will take part in the stand down, said Gary Larson, assistant fire chief.

"It's to emphasize that we are losing too many firefighters and we need to concentrate on safety," Coulter said.

Grand Forks has never lost a firefighter to a death or injury suffered while fighting a fire, Coulter said. However, longtime fire department leader Max Allard died last year, "in the line of duty," after battling cancer, Coulter said.

Nationwide, 58 firefighters have died in the line of duty this year, as of June 16, seven more than the same period a year ago, according to the fire chiefs association.

That number includes all active firefighters who died of all causes during the period, not necessarily directly related to fighting a fire. The great majority of firefighter deaths in the line of duty are due to heart attacks, the fire chiefs association reported.

Distributed by the Associated Press