In two to four years, North Dakota will move to a statewide network for its emergency response communications. McKenzie County is getting a jump start on the radios its volunteer fire departments will need for that new system, thanks to a $100,000 grant from ConocoPhillips.
The grant brings ConocoPhillips donations in the Williston Basin to $375,000 for 2019. The company has offices in both Watford City and Dickinson.
The ConocoPhillips grant is actually one of two recently that is helping McKenzie County stay on the cutting edge when it comes to emergency readiness in the Oil Patch.
The other grant was from Crestwood Midstream, which included $45,000 for an air compressor trailer.
The company is also making a separate grant that will send a total of 25 firefighters from Williams and McKenzie counties to the One Basin One Way safety training at a cost of $175 per person. One Basin One Way was recently rolled out as a uniform safety program for oilfield workers by the North Dakota Petroleum Council.
Emergency Management Director Karolin Jappe will be selecting the firefighters from each county for that training opportunity. She said she will keep it as close to half and half as possible from each county.
Grants like these are particularly important for fire and rescue operations like those in McKenzie County, Jappe added. Her county is served by no less than 10 all-volunteer departments, some with a small tax base.
“Mandaree, I’m not sure what they get from the tribe, but they are probably a low tax base,” she said. “Grassy Butte has a lot of federal lands, so that’s a low tax base, and Arnegard is trying to pay for a fire hall right now.”
New radios are going to cost $5,000 each when the time comes, according to Jappe’s research.
The grant from ConocoPhillips will help cover the cost of 24 radios, two for each fire department, as well as one for each ambulance and one for the quick response unit.
“Communication in any incident is so critical and important,” Jappe said. “Whenever you have an after-action review, it’s always communication that’s the weak link. So I just want to get ahead of the game, and ConocoPhillips helped me make that happen.”
The Crestwood grant for the air compressor will help Jappe ensure air supplies are adequate, even for a longer-term firefighting effort.
“In the last five month, we had five incidents where we were about ready to run out of air,” she said. “When that happens, the only option I have is to call for mutual aid.”
A self-contained breathing apparatus, or SCBA, helps protect firefighters’ lungs from toxic fumes that come from common modern-day building materials when they burn.
Having an air compressor will help ensure McKenzie County is prepared for continued growth.
“In my job, I have to look at the future,” she said. “We are continuing to grow and expand. I looked at that Mandan fire in the apartment complex, and it just broke my heart.”
Not long after that, she learned Watford City has 70 three-story units like that of its own. It is also continuing to build, so will likely soon have more.
“So I just felt that is one thing we need,” she said. “I want to do the right thing now to be prepared. We hope nothing like that happens, but in case it does, we can back up to the garage, hook that up, and pull it out on scene to fill SCBA tanks.”