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Bemidji firefighters had busy Monday

Bemidji firefighters were busy even before the call came in Monday afternoon for the fire at Regency Park Apartments.

The Bemidji Fire Department received 18 total calls for service Monday. Two additional medical calls were declined simply because the department's resources were unavailable.

The Regency Park fire, which came in about 3 p.m., was one of four fire calls that day. Others first included a brush fire, a fire at an abandoned residence and a picnic table threatening a structure.

"We had a busy day even up to the time of the fire at Regency Park," said Bemidji Fire Chief Dave Hoefer.

There were about 125 emergency responders that responded to the Regency Park fire, including 43 firefighters from the Bemidji Fire Department.

No occupants at Regency Park were injured. Three firefighters, though, were injured. One suffered smoke inhalation and was treated at released at North Country Regional Hospital. Two others had muscle-related injuries.

"(The muscle injuries) didn't surprise me, considering how hard our folks were working out there," Hoefer said.

The fire, which is suspected to have started due to discarded smoking materials, began on a balcony and spread on outside walls to the attic area.

Hoefer said an "aggressive" attack by firefighters saved the majority of the apartment complex.

"I'm very, very proud," he said.

Upon arrival at the scene, Hoefer said he considered the building. He believed that firefighters could contain the fire to the middle section and "that would be a victory for us."

"The potential for loss was much greater," he said.

Of course, that is exactly what happened. Due to a combination of factors, including firefighters' efforts, fire walls and the sprinkler system, the fire was contained to the middle section of the building. Seven of the 63 total units are suspected to be completely gutted by fire.

When looking up at the complex, you can see the charred roof lines where fire was trying to break through but couldn't, Hoefer said. Firefighters effectively stopped the fire from spreading even farther.

"The tactics we used were aggressive and really required some hard work," he said. "I think that really, really helped us out."

Quick response

Hoefer expects Bemidji firefighters to be get at least one unit out of the Fire Hall within one minute of a fire call.

He said that did happen with Regency Park.

One fire engine and five firefighters, including Hoefer, were all on scene less than 5 minutes after receiving the call.

The first wave of personnel from the Bemidji Fire Department that will respond to a fire call will be career, or full-time, firefighters and dormers, who live at the Fire Hall.

"I expect that we can at least get one rig out in under one minute with our career guys," Hoefer said. "That's our goal. That's how we're going to save lives."

The paid on-call volunteers, of whom Bemidji has 40, will respond next.

"They are a huge part of our organization," Hoefer said. "We need them."

Later, if needed, Bemidji will call for help from mutual-aid fire departments, such as Bagley, Blackduck, Cass Lake and Solway, which all responded to Regency Park Monday afternoon.

Talking positives

Hoefer said the Regency Park fire will not be deemed a total loss.

The assessed value on the property is between $2.2 million and $2.3 million and he is thinking the fire caused about $1 million worth of property damage.

That means firefighters saved between $1.2 million and $1.3 million in property, he noted.

There is an estimated $1 million worth of personnel property inside the apartment complex. Between $300,000 and $400,000 worth of property was lost, which means firefighters saved between $600,000 and $700,000 worth of personnel property.

He also said none of the 20-plus vehicles parked in the underground garage was damaged.

"This had the potential to be so much worse," Hoefer said. "I was very pleased at the end of the day with what we had left standing."