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Published April 11 2013

Xcel sends ND crews to Sioux Falls; Fargo firefighters ready if needed

FARGO – Xcel Energy has sent five North Dakota crews to Sioux Falls, S.D., to assist with recovery from a major ice storm, and the Fargo Fire Department also has a dozen firefighters ready to respond if needed, officials said.

Xcel Energy, which serves Sioux Falls and a number of surrounding communities, dispatched three crews from Fargo and one each from Grand Forks and Minot in line trucks with lift buckets, equipped with chainsaws and other equipment, spokesman Mark Nisbet said.

Xcel has mutual aid agreements with other utility companies in Minnesota and has asked them to pitch in, as well, Nisbet said. He noted Fargo has received such mutual aid assistance in the past, including after the Memorial Day 2011 windstorm that downed dozens of large trees and cut power to 39,000 customers.

“So, we’ll have a massive workforce on the ground today and really hope to make big progress today,” he said.

The Fargo Fire Department, which has had a mutual aid agreement in place with the Sioux Falls Fire Department for about 10 years, received a request Wednesday asking what resources it could spare if needed, Fargo Fire Chief Steve Dirksen said.

Twelve Fargo firefighters are now on standby, ready to leave immediately for Sioux Falls if called upon, though Dirksen said that appeared “highly unlikely” as of Thursday morning. No equipment had been requested so far, he said.

Dirksen, who served with the Sioux Falls Fire Department for nearly 18 years before accepting the Fargo chief’s job in fall 2011, said Sioux Falls firefighters responded to roughly 300 calls for service from Tuesday to Wednesday morning and another 120 calls from Wednesday morning to 4:30 a.m. Thursday, compared to a typical day with 30 to 45 calls. When he received the call from Sioux Falls on Wednesday morning, crews there were battling three structure fires at once, he said.

Dirksen said he feels for his former department.

“It puts a lot of stress on you, running that many calls in that short a period of time,” he said. “When they called and said, ‘What can you provide us if we need your help?’, it was easy for us to say, ‘Yeah, we’d like to help if we can.’ ”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528