Downtown apartment fire hikes 2007 losses

WILLMAR -- Damage from the Nov. 16 fire in a downtown apartment building accounted for about 37 percent of the $1,398,400 estimated loss reported in the Willmar Fire Department's 2007 annual report.

WILLMAR -- Damage from the Nov. 16 fire in a downtown apartment building accounted for about 37 percent of the $1,398,400 estimated loss reported in the Willmar Fire Department's 2007 annual report.

The fire, started by a bathroom fan in an upstairs Bonde Building apartment at 404 Litchfield Ave. S.W., caused $500,000 in damage and left 19 people homeless. Residents escaped after being alerted by citizens.

Last year's dollar loss was up from $242,000 in 2006 and $15,000 in 2005. Two major fires boosted 2004's loss to $1.3 million, up from $72,000 in 2003.

Willmar Fire Chief Marv Calvin said 2007's losses "were pretty comparative'' to losses in other years.

"When you have a half-million-dollar-loss fire, it kind of makes the numbers look kind of out of whack, particularly where you look a couple of years earlier where dollar loss was way down,'' he said.


The Bonde Building fire was one of 324 incidents to which Willmar firefighters were called in 2007, up from 313 in 2006. During the past 10 years, the number of incidents has ranged from 299 in 1998 to a high of 345 in 2001.

In 2007, there were 17 calls to assembly areas (such as amusement areas, restaurants and government buildings), 18 calls to educational buildings, 50 calls to health care, detention and corrections buildings, 85 to residential dwellings, 27 to businesses, 1 to the communications center, 15 to manufacturing and processing buildings, 7 to warehouse and storage buildings, and 101 to outside or special property.

The types of incidents vary from car fires, building fires, alarm activation (but no fire), to cooking fires, mutual aid, bomb scares and assisting law enforcement.

Calvin said he's seeing an increase in the number of children playing with matches or lighters.

"Child-set fires are always dangerous because it could lead to death,'' he said. "Many times the child is afraid they will get into trouble for starting the fire and they go hide.''

Average response time declined by one second from 4 minutes, 13 seconds in 2006 to 4 minutes, 12 seconds in 2007.

Calvin said response time should generally be at or less than 5 minutes from the time the call comes to the 911 center to the time firefighters are on the scene.

"Response time continues to be in the 4-minute range, which is acceptable for a department our size,'' he said.


Time spent on calls averaged 33 minutes in 2007, down slightly from 35 minutes in 2006.

The busiest month of 2007 was July with 39 calls. The second busiest month was June with 34 calls.

In 2006, the busiest month was October with 39 calls, followed by June and November with 30 calls each.

The busiest day of the week in 2007 was Thursday with 53 calls falling on that day of the week, followed by Tuesday with 51 calls. Thursday was also the busiest day in 2006 with 54 calls. Second was Friday with 48 calls.

The busiest time of the day was noon with 28 calls, followed by 11 a.m. with 25 calls.

Calvin attributes Thursday being the busiest day of the week to car crashes and other incidents associated with setup day at Sonshine, the annual Christian rock festival.

About one-third of all calls are false alarms, he said.

Calvin, fire chief since January 2000, continues to advocate for a north side substation, shared with other emergency services. The substation is needed because trains are getting longer and could block the crossings to the north side.


"A fire doubles in size every 30 seconds. We need a fire truck on the north side of town so that we can get there quickly with a limited crew and augment them with the main station to put out fires quickly,'' he said.

"If an incident in the rail yard takes out the First Street Bridge, we're done,'' he said. "If we ended up with a fire on the north side of town when we have the tracks closed, or blocked, or for whatever reason, it'd be catastrophic. We have mutual aid partners to the north with Spicer and New London that would come in quickly and help us, but that's a delayed response.''

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