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Wendy Reuer, Published April 08 2012

New Moorhead fire chief changing things up

MOORHEAD – Fire Chief Rich Duysen is looking for ways the city can get more bang for its buck.

To save about $82,000 in the city’s 2012 budget, the Moorhead City Council decided to hire its fire chief from within and look at a reorganization of the fire department’s management.

Now, after a few months on the job, Duysen is working on at least three concepts that could help improve efficiency without hiring new staff.

Before Duysen took over as “interim chief” in 2010, he was an assistant fire chief, (one of four) a fire investigator and the city’s lone fire marshal.

While Duysen is still the city’s fire marshal, he is hoping to create an assistant fire marshal position, a role that would be assumed by current staff.

The assistant fire marshal position would help with issues of fire prevention, community education, inspections and investigations.

The department will keep its three assistant chiefs (one on duty at all times) and six captains. Two captains are also on duty during every shift, one at each fire station, Duysen said.

Duysen has also suggested that the position of a city emergency manager be created. The position would be housed in the fire department and would work as a liaison between fire, police and public works departments. Emergency managers help coordinate jurisdictions and logistics during emergencies and help organize trainings for emergency personnel.

“Different functions are currently shared across different positions. Consolidating these duties in one position would be helpful to the organization, so that is why we are exploring the concept,” City Manager Michael Redlinger said.

Clay County Sheriff’s Lt. Bryan Green currently serves as emergency manger for the entire county.

“The state mandated the county provide emergency services, and it seemed to be efficient,” said Police Chief David Ebinger. “Green has done a stellar job, and he’ll continue to do so for the county, but Moorhead is such a large part of the county that we end up eating up a lion’s share of his time in any emergency. We need to have our own people at the table.”

Ebinger said the fire department is already well versed in many areas of first response such as rescue and paramedics, so it makes sense to house the position there.

“We’re all going to benefit from it,” Ebinger said.

Both the possible fire marshal and emergency manager positions are conceptual at this time, Redlinger said.

“When Rich finishes developing a draft job description, we will evaluate where we are at. The management reorganization must meet the needs of the department and organization first and foremost while staying within 2012 budget limitations.”

Duysen, a board member for the Red River Regional Dispatch Center, is also working on a third change for his department. He and the dispatch center have applied for a grant from Sanford Health to upgrade response software. The needed software – with a price tag of about $81,000 – will change how the fire department responds to medical calls.

Now, Moorhead fire immediately responds to all medical calls along with ambulances.

Fire crews can be called off if the call is determined to be a non-emergency, but with the current dispatch system, that can take up to two minutes.

The software package would help speed up the process, cutting fire calls down by up to one per day, Duysen said.

“We’d rather go and find we’re not needed than to miss one emergency where we are,” Duysen said. “In a life-or-death situation, we’re still going to be dispatched right away. We’ll be there.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530