WEST FARGO — West Fargo's surge in population and emergency calls has its fire department planning to match that growth in the next five years, possibly by adding staff and facilities.

Chief Dan Fuller said the department started a yearlong process in 2018 to create a strategic growth plan through 2023. It's only the second such plan the department has had; the first was created in 2016.

As part of the strategic plan unveiled Monday, June 17, Fuller outlined 11 goals from standardizing staffing and schedules to researching the department's facility needs and future staffing needs.

Fuller said the department will look into expanding the current central fire station at 106 1st St. and whether a third station should be built. Ideally, most residents would live within a 1.5-mile radius of a fire station to keep response times down.

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In 2018, the first engine arrived at the scene of a call within 9 minutes, 72 percent of the time. The department responded to a total of more than 1,500 calls for service. Of those calls, about 660 were fire calls and about 900 were medical calls. Over the past five years, the department has seen increases in fire calls of 91 percent, with an average annual increase of 20 percent year to year.

The department expects to respond to about 2,600 calls in 2019.

The central station serves the area north of Interstate 94, and the south side station serves the area south of I-94. The central station houses the administrative staff, fire prevention division, and 23 volunteer firefighters. The south side station houses 13 career firefighters (working in shifts of four with a daytime battalion chief) and 22 volunteer firefighters.

The current plan calls for a minimum of 15 firefighters (career and paid on call) available 24 hours a day, but as part of the new strategic plan, the department officials will be researching if and how many new staff should be added to the department by 2023. Along with new staff, the department will focus on retaining its current staff and training.

A new training center for the department, or a possible joint training center that would be shared with other departments is a possibility, Fuller said. "Our current training center is currently a homemade training center," he said.

The department currently has a staff of 63, which includes 18 full-time and 45 paid-on-call employees.

Fuller said the department will also be focusing on individual needs of firefighters. He said research has found 61 percent of firefighters will get cancer in their lifetime. The department recently invested in new gear that will help protect firefighters as well as specialized commercial washers to help care for the uniforms.

A recent $20,000 grant was awarded to the West Fargo Fire Department to help pay for new helmets. "We are adopting a safety-first mindset," Fuller said.

The full strategic plan can be found online at http://westfargofire.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/West-Fargo-Fire-Strategic-Plan-2019-2023v2.pdf