Storm shows need for backup power at Bemidji Fire Department
BEMIDJI – The Bemidji Fire Department has been in need of a backup generator for years, but the July 2 windstorm showed how urgent that need was.
During that storm, straight-line winds in excess of 80 mph knocked down thousands of trees and numerous power lines in the region. The fire station downtown was without power for five to six hours, said Fire Chief Dave Hoefer.
During that time, they turned to their portable generator, which can only power essential things like communications, air compressors and basic lighting.
When using the generator, firefighters conserve energy by doing things like opening one garage door at a time, Hoefer said.
At one point during the July storm, the department had to be without communications for about 10 minutes, Hoefer said.
“It was really evident during that July storm that we need to address the backup power situation at the station,” Hoefer said.
The city has $50,000 dedicated to a new generator in 2013 for the fire department in its capital improvement plan. That generator would switch on automatically in the event of a power outage, whereas currently, someone has to recognize the station is without power and hook up the generator.
That can be an issue, Hoefer said, if they’re out on a call and no one is at the station.
He said the department typically has to use the portable generator a few times a year, but usually not for more than an hour. Hoefer hopes that they’ll have the new generator by July 2013.
Before the storm, Beltrami County had been looking at systems to notify the public of an emergency. In November, the county launched CodeRED, which notifies residents by phone of an emergency.
The system has been used three times so far, including during the closure of some local roads on Dec. 15 due to icy conditions.
“(The July 2 storm) really convinced us that we need to get that,” Sheriff Phil Hodapp said. He added that an electrician reorganized some of the distribution of emergency power in the Law Enforcement Center after the storm.
Hodapp said the lack of deaths or major injuries was a silver lining considering how powerful the storm was and how much damage was left behind.
“Obviously luck plays a part in that, but preparation and notification does too,” he said.