A new, busy normal

As of 2010 Census Bureau data, the City of Minot covered an area of roughly 17 square miles, although by the end of that year, the city Engineering Department claims, the total area was about 18 square miles. Just three years later, today the city covers quite a bit more area at just over 27 square miles, and it continues to grow through yearly annexations. And, as a representative from the department said, annexations seem to be going in every direction.

During that time, emergency services including the Minot Fire Department, the Minot Police Department and Community Ambulance of Minot have had to make do with what they’ve got to cover the growing community. By and large, though, the services seem to be handling it.

“I believe it’s an exciting time for all the departments in the city,” said CJ Craven, fire chief for the city for about six and a half years, in a phone interview.

“I would say we have adequate coverage. I wouldn’t say it’s great,” he added about his department’s ability to service the city. “We’ve increased the size of the city to over 26 square miles, and so that is considerably more territory to cover with the same amount of stations.”

The city has had three fire stations since 1976. The headquarters station, also known as Fire Station 1, used to be located near the current police department headquarters and City Hall, but relocated in 2001 to its current location on 10th Street Southwest near the intersection with 20th Avenue Southwest in the Dakota Square Mall area.

That’s because at the time, the city was already expanding and they felt that there shouldn’t be two downtown locations as the city moved farther away, Craven said.

As it continues to expand today, though, the fire department is looking hard at where to best locate a possible fourth station to meet the growing needs.

“Right now we’re just waiting to see how the growth of the city continues, what direction it goes in,” Craven said. “We’re not considering anything at this time because we’re still seeing significant growth in the city so we’re keeping our options open.”

Those options include looking at land in the southeast and northwest.

“The developments that are starting to concern us the most are the ones to the south,” he said. “We’re getting farther from the center of town.”

Those developments include Bolton Heights, being developed west of the U.S. Highway 83 Bypass, and Stonebridge Farms to the northeast. Craven said the area around the new Ramstad Middle School is easily served by Fire Station 3, though, which is located at Minot International Airport.

“If the growth continues, there is no question that we’re going to have to have additional fire stations in the future,” Craven said.

Still, all those new developments present a problem other than just more people and coverage area. Whereas Minot has traditionally relied almost entirely on an easily understandable grid of numbered streets and avenues divided further into four quadrants, the new developments have brought along their own street system with individual names, rather than numbers.

“Some of the newer addresses are a little bit more difficult. We got so used to the roads being numbered and now a lot of them have names,” said Steve Hall, a field supervisor for Community Ambulance of Minot, which provides advanced life support and ambulance services to the entire Minot area. “But we’re getting a lot of training with maps and as new developments are coming in, we discuss them at our daily morning reports and at our monthly staff meeting.”

The ambulances also all come equipped with global positioning system, or GPS, devices to help the drivers find their way to emergencies. With the rapid development, though, they have to update the GPS software often to include all the new roads.

But the size of the city doesn’t really affect Community Ambulance too much since they have never been limited to just servicing the community. The company is also responsible for the cities of Burlington and Surrey.

Likewise, the police department isn’t troubled too much by the physical expansion of the city because they deploy their units in shifts all around town rather than being dispatched from the police department building for each call. Instead, said Capt. John Klug, the influx of people has been more of a problem for the department.

Many more people means much more traffic.

“The heavy traffic is making it more difficult to respond,” Klug said. “I don’t think the expanding area is as much of a problem as the traffic has been.”

Southwest Minot has a huge amount of businesses on it so a lot more police will be patrolling that area while the businesses are open and fewer when they’re not, allowing for more patrol in areas with expanding housing, like southwest Minot.

The good news, though, is that the department had a request to hire seven additional employees in the beginning of 2013 approved. While a couple resignations have taken place since then, the numbers are still up.

But the traffic incidents, especially as winter approaches and the roads become covered in snow and ice, may see the biggest delays in emergency response times.

“I think where people are going to see delays in response is the heavy traffic crashes as snow falls. Those without injuries may have to be bumped down (in priority). It’s not unusual with crashes with no injuries to have to wait an hour for response,” Klug said. “People will have to be patient and let us solve those priorities as we see fit.”

It really comes down to a lot of guesswork in trying to plan for what the city is becoming in terms of size and what it may still become as the years pass.

“The last three years have been unprecedented,” Craven said.

Looking to other areas for ideas on how to plan for the future really is limited to just those that have experienced the rapid growth that a booming economy, like the oil-fueled one of western North Dakota, can provide.

“The growth in Minot over the last three years is not something that is seen outside of the oil growth areas,” he added. “We’ve kind of looked anywhere where there has been this rapid-type of growth.”