Since 2009 Fridley residents have seen about 100 formerly, owner-occupied, single family homes per year become non-homesteaded rental properties. Much of this undoubtedly has to do with the decline in housing values and with the fact that many homeowners, whose mortgage values exceed the value of their homes, are unable to sell their homes. Under these circumstances properties are often purchased as foreclosures and rented by new owners. In other cases existing owners choose to move and rent rather than continue to live in homes they can not sell. These conversions of homesteaded property to non-homesteaded property have presented challenges for members of the Fridley Fire Department who are responsible for the City's rental licensing program.
In 2011 ninety-four of these non-homesteaded property owners applied for rental licensing. As of the end of March, 2012, another fifteen property owners had filed for rental licenses for formerly homesteaded properties. The City learns of these conversions in a variety of ways including utility conversions, calls from neighbors, and through research of Anoka County records.
Once the Fire Department staff suspects that a home has been converted to rental, they typically begin by searching County records to determine if it has been listed as non-homesteaded. If the property is listed as non-homesteaded and there is no rental license, they send out a letter to the owner asking him/her to complete a rental license application or to explain why the property is not rental. While property owners usually respond quickly, those who do not respond generate a visit to the residence by firefighters who knock on the door and talk to the occupant. They ask the occupant to call the owner and advise him/her of our visit and provide the occupant with rental licensing forms. In the event that this step is ignored, staff returns to the property and posts it as "suspect rental". Ultimately, staff may in rare cases be forced to file misdemeanor charges against the owner in the District Court. While almost every owner ultimately complies there are about one or two owners each year who "put up quite a fuss", but ultimately comply.
While this rental identification and compliance process is very time consuming for an already stretched Fridley Fire Department, it is important to insure that these rental properties are properly maintained and are not a safety hazard to tenants or neighbors. If residents know of newly created rental property in your neighborhood, we encourage you to call the Fridley Fire Department 763- 572-3616.
The Fridley Fire Department has repeatedly used federal grant money provided by FEMA to replace equipment. The year 2011 was no exception. During the course of the year, it received a total of $22,408 to replace nine Automated External Defibrillators (AED's) and to acquire two Masimo RAD 57 CO Oximeters, or carbon monoxide measurement devices. They also received an AED from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.
Firefighters carry the AED's on every Fire Department rescue vehicle and fire truck and use them in their response to cardiac arrests. Through November of 2011, they were used a total of 423 times in attempts to resuscitate cardiac arrest victims. While there are many variables affecting the success of cardiac arrest rescue efforts, the AED's are considered indispensable tools that contributed to cardiac arrest saves in about a third of these cases.
The RAD 57 devices are carried on two of the Department's rescue vehicles and are used to measure carbon monoxide levels in the blood. Even small amounts of inhaled carbon monoxide quickly reduce the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, poisons tissues and cells and interferes with heart and skeletal muscle. In 2011, these devices were used on numerous occasions, including ten occasions where either firefighters or residents were found to have ingested unsafe levels of carbon monoxide.
Other potential uses of FEMA grant money include the purchase of fire engines. While the Fridley Fire Department has yet to be successful in getting grant money for this purpose, it has applied for a $250,000 grant in 2011. If successful, the money will be used to replace an existing fire engine in 2013.
The prospects for getting future FEMA grants will undoubtedly be affected by efforts in Congress to reduce the federal budget deficit. In June, there were unsuccessful attempts in the U.S. House of Representatives to cut these programs by more than 50%. To the extent that these efforts are successful in 2012, much of the burden for purchasing Fire Department equipment will be shifted back to local tax payers. As we hear more, we will provide updates in future newsletter articles.
Each year Fridley school fourth grade classes are eligible to participate in the Fire Safety Poster Contest sponsored by the North Suburban Regional Mutual Aid Association. This year three Fridley schools participated in the contest. The entries were to include a fire safety or prevention message from the current year theme for Fire Prevention Month, which was "Protect Your Family From Fire". One winning poster was chosen from each school and the winning poster from those will compete with entries from other cities for a $50 grand prize. The winning student, their parents and teacher will be invited to a special winner recognition program held at the Firefighters Hall and Museum in November.
The three winning posters of 2011 "Protect Your Family From Fire" are as follows:
While the Fridley Fire Department does our best to educate the community on preventing home fires, sometimes our best efforts may not be enough to keep a home safe. In 2009, U.S. fire departments responded to more than 360,000 home fires which caused 12,650 injuries and 2,565 deaths.
Seconds and minutes can mean the difference between life and death. We want to ensure that Fridley residents know what to do if a fire breaks out in their home. Preparation is an important part of being able to deal with an emergency and it is crucial you take steps to prepare your family for the potential of a home fire by having an escape plan and practicing it.
Although preparing for the unexpected is difficult, reviewing the information below and taking action based on it to plan for a fire could save lives.
Planning your Escape
Pull together everyone in your household and make a plan. Walk through your home and inspect all possible ways out of your home. Households with children should consider drawing a map of your home, marking two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. Also, mark the location of each smoke alarm. Everyone in the household must understand the escape plan. When you walk through your plan, check to make sure the ways out are clear and doors and windows can be opened easily.Choose an outside meeting place (i.e. neighbor's house, a light post, mailbox, or stop sign) a safe distance in front of your home where everyone can meet after they've escaped. Make sure to mark the location of the meeting place on your escape plan.Have everyone memorize the emergency phone number of the fire department. That way any member of the household can call from a neighbor's home or a cellular phone once safely outside.If there are infants, older adults, or family members with mobility limitations, make sure that someone is assigned to assist them in the fire drill and in the event of an emergency. Assign a backup person too, in case the designee is not home during the emergency.Be fully prepared for a real fire: when a smoke alarm sounds, get outside immediately.Once you're outside, stay outside! Under no circumstances should you ever go back into a burning building. If someone is missing, inform the fire department dispatcher when you call. Firefighters have the skills and equipment to perform rescues.
Putting your plan to the test
Practice your home fire escape drill twice a year, making the drill as realistic as possible.Make arrangements in your plan for anyone in your home who has a disability.Always choose the way out that is safest – the one with the least amount of smoke and heat – but be prepared to escape under toxic smoke if necessary. When you do your fire drill, everyone in the family should practice getting low and going under the smoke to your way out.Closing doors on your way out slows the spread of fire, giving you more time to safely escape.In some cases, smoke or fire may prevent you from exiting your home or apartment building. To prepare for an emergency like this, practice "sealing yourself in for safety" as part of your home fire escape plan. Close all doors between you and the fire. Use duct tape or towels to seal the door cracks and cover air vents to keep smoke from coming in. If possible, open your windows at the top and bottom so fresh air can get in.
On Saturday, October 8 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. the Fridley Fire Department is holding fun, family-oriented activities during Fire Prevention Week annual open house to support "It's Fire Prevention Week. Protect your Family from Fire!" locally. We strongly encourage Fridley residents to participate in these events to learn more about the importance of smoke alarms and other ways to protect your home and family from fire.
Don't forget to practice your escape plan during Fire Prevention Week!
Does everyone in your home know what the smoke alarm sounds like? Did you remove the batteries when they started chirping instead of replacing them? If it did sound, would you know what to do?
The Fridley Fire Department is teaming up with the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) during October 9-15, 2011, to let our community know: "It's Fire Prevention Week. Protect your Family from Fire!" As always, the focus of FPW is to prevent home fires. This year, the campaign is also urging people to protect their homes and families with planning and life-saving technology -- like smoke alarms!
Smoke alarms are an important part of a home fire escape plan. Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in a home fire in half. Unfortunately, many homes have smoke alarms that just don't work. In fact, according to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), roughly two-thirds of home fire deaths happen in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. About one in five of smoke alarm failures was due to dead batteries.
The Fridley Fire Department is urging you to use this week to be sure that your smoke alarms are equipped to help protect your family from fire by putting the following tips into action:
Smoke alarms should be installed on every level of the home (including the basement), outside each sleeping area, and inside each bedroom. Larger homes may need additional smoke alarms. Never remove or disable smoke alarms.Interconnection of smoke alarms is highly recommended; when one smoke alarm sounds, they all do. (This is particularly important in larger or multi-story homes, where the sound from distant smoke alarms may be reduced to the point that it may not be loud enough to provide proper warning, especially for sleeping individuals.) A licensed electrician can install either hard-wired multiple-station alarms. Wireless alarms, which manufacturers have more recently begun producing, can be installed by the homeowner.There are two types of smoke alarm technologies – ionization and photoelectric. An ionization smoke alarm is generally more responsive to flaming fires – like a pan fire or the smoke from cooking. A photoelectric alarm is generally more responsive to smoldering fires – like a cigarette, overheated wiring or something hot like a space heater. Install both types of alarms in your home or combination ionization and photoelectric alarms that take advantage of both technologies.Test smoke alarms at least monthly by pushing the test button. If an alarm "chirps," warning the battery is low, replace the battery right away.All smoke alarms, including alarms that use 10-year batteries and those that are hard-wired alarms, should be replaced when they're 10 years old (or sooner) if they do not respond properly when tested.
On Saturday, October 11 from 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. The Fridley Fire Department is holding fun, family-oriented activities during Fire Prevention Week to support "It's Fire Prevention Week. Protect your Family from Fire!" locally. We strongly encourage Fridley residents to participate in these events to learn more about the importance of smoke alarms and other ways to protect your home and family from fire.
In our February newsletter we pointed out that the owners of apartment buildings with seventeen units or more had been slow to comply with a 2005 state law requiring an integrated, "three featured fire alarm system". These include the requirement that smoke detectors be installed in all units and common areas and the requirement that each corridor and apartment unit be equipped with sound devices that alert residents to the presence of a fire in the building. The third feature requires buildings that have fire sprinkler systems be tied to an outside alarm monitoring service.
The slow response was attributed to the cost of these new alarm systems as well as to the fact that most multi-family buildings already have alarm systems in units and corridors that are not integrated. The other reason for the slow response is that the number of rental units in Fridley (more than 4,000 units) together with the staffing levels of the Fridley Fire Department limit the frequency of inspection of rental units and common areas.
Since February, however, the Fire Department and rental property owners have made considerable progress in achieving compliance with state law. As of mid-August the owners of thirty-three of fifty-four apartment buildings had completed the upgrading of their fire alarm systems. Four other owners were in the process of completing installations. The owners of seven other buildings have indicated in writing that their building will be compliant by the end of the year. Two other owners, one who owns nine buildings and another who owns one building, have thus far failed to cooperate. Should they not cooperate by year's end; the Fire Department will assess additional penalties and refuse to renew rental licenses for the buildings.
According to Assistant Fire Chief John Crelly, there is abundant evidence that the new integrated fire alarm systems do help to save lives and limit property damage. On March 5 of this year, for example, firefighters were dispatched to an apartment fire at 630 Osborne Road. Shortly after being dispatched, Anoka County Dispatch advised that there was smoke in the exit hallway. Upon arrival, firefighters located a burning mattress that had been dragged to the living room of a ground floor apartment. After trying to extinguish the fire, residents of the apartment were forced by the dense smoke to leave the apartment. According to John Crelly, residents had no intention of calling 911. Fortunately, the new smoke detectors in the building's hallway detected the smoke and alerted all residents in the building. As a result, everyone was able to quickly and safely exit the building. Had the building's smoke alarm system not been upgraded, chances are great that the fire and smoke would have spread rapidly to other units in the building.
In 2008, after an extremely hectic third Friday in July, we began describing Fire Department calls for service on that date. While there's nothing magical about the third Friday in July, that's where we started and where we have been in each of the last three October newsletters. Here's the scoop on Fire Department activity on this date in 2011.
Altogether there were nine calls this year. They began at12:25 a.m. when a woman in an apartment reported hearing someone yelling for help. Firefighters found a forty-nine year old male in the hallway that had likely overdosed on medication and alcohol. The individual was transported by Allina. At 2:22 a.m. they responded to an eighty-five year old male who had fallen and suffered a head injury. One of our firefighters rode with Allina paramedics to assist with medical care. A little more than four hours later, at 6:37 a.m. firefighters responded to a report of "smelling something burning" at Grace Evangelical Church on 73rd Avenue. Firefighters found a hot electrical panel containing a sixty amp breaker and advised church staff to have an electrician inspect the panel.
The morning began with thunderstorms and rain. On this dark and stormy morning at 9:51 a.m. a neighbor reported seeing the house located at 1420 Glacier Lane struck by lightning. Firefighters responded and found a refrigerant line for a central air conditioner leaking on the building's exterior with vapor visible from the street. There was no other visible sign of damage, no one was home. After notifying the property owner by phone, firefighters cut a window screen and entered the home through a window. There was no sign of damage inside. Firefighters reported to the owner and secured the home before leaving.
At 11.42 a.m. firefighters responded to Wal*Mart after two employees experienced an allergic reaction to what may have been "construction fumes". After examining one of the two employees, firefighters found no cause for action and departed the scene. Having just sat down for lunch just after Noon, firefighters got another call at 12:25 p.m. The Brooklyn Center Fire Department was requesting mutual aid for a house fire at 7200 Dupont Avenue. Lightning had struck the house causing natural gas to leak from the exterior gas meter. Fire spread up the exterior of the house and into the attic. Firefighters from Brooklyn Center, West Metro Fire District, Robbinsdale and Fridley worked to extinguish the fire and remove smoldering cellulose insulation from the attic space. Fridley firefighters were at this scene for ninety minutes. The last call was a medical assist call at 12:42 p.m. to a 30 year old female who was having difficulty breathing. The individual had been transported by Allina before firefighters arrived.
From that time things were quiet until early the next morning when the very intense rainstorm hit Fridley early in the morning. By the time of the train derailment near Locke Lake the Fire Department had already responded to several other storm-related calls. After the derailment the call level again became very intense as did the call level for our Police and Public Works Departments.
Fire Department staffing on July 15 initially included just two firefighters. At 8:00 a.m. these firefighters were replaced by three other firefighters and an EMT student from Anoka Technical College. Fire Chief John Berg and Assistant Fire Chief John Crelly were also available between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Three other firefighters came in to assist with the call to Brooklyn Center.
The overall number of Fire Department calls for service in 2011 is up almost 7% from 2010 due mainly to the increased number of storms in 2011. This year we have had 1,663 calls for service through the first seven months. This compares with 1,557 calls for the same period in 2010, and 1,595 calls for the first seven months of 2009. Fire losses for 2011 have decreased slightly from the prior year. The value of lost property due to fire during the first seven months of 2011 is $79,420. This compares with $87,850 during the same period in 2010.
Have you ever been driving and seen something that looked like a potential emergency situation? Perhaps you wondered whether or not you should call 911. According to Linda Hanson, Manager of Anoka County Central Communications, the answer is yes. If you believe there is a potential problem under any circumstances that may require police or fire assistance do not hesitate to call 911. Additionally, if you think something looks suspicious or you think you've seen something that police and fire personnel should know about, call 911. These situations could include the spotting of a stranded motorist, rail system crossing gates that are unexplainably down, traffic signal outages, a non-injury accident, or a front door to your home that is mysteriously open. Don't deliberate; just call 911.
As you call 911, however, there are some do's and don'ts. First, if you accidentally called 911, stay on the line and explain what has happened rather than generate a response from an officer. Secondly, take a moment to visualize where you are and be prepared to describe your location. Third, do not necessarily expect an immediate response. Police officers and firefighters are often very busy responding to concurrent calls and must be given the flexibility to prioritize their calls. Also realize that in some circumstances you may get a telephone response or no response at all if it is something that has already been reported.
While you should not hesitate to call 911 for circumstances that may require police and/or fire department assistance, you should not be calling 911 for information about public events, power outages or other circumstances that are not public safety issues. Also, do not call 911 for situations where keys are locked in cars. The Fridley Police Department does not assist with vehicle lockouts; nor does it respond to reports of deer running near your home.
While you should be calling Xcel Energy at 1-800-895-1999 to report power outage, you should call 911 immediately if you spot a downed power line. If you smell, hear, or see a natural gas leak call 911. Once you have alerted public safety responders to the gas leak, you should call Center Point Energy's emergency gas leak hotline at 1-800-296-9815 to report the leak.
Both emergency and non-emergency 911 calls are handled by Anoka County Central Communications from their facilities in the Anoka County Courthouse. Fridley residents who wish to make non-emergency police reports, report a crime tip, or request a vacation house check have the option of reporting their matter online. Just go to the Fridley website, click on Police Department and follow the directions to their online reporting system.
Fire Chief John Berg reported that twenty-five of Fridley's apartment buildings having seventeen or more units have complied with the state fire code regarding the installation of building fire alarm systems. The owners of the remaining twenty-nine apartment buildings include five who have submitted plans for the installation of these fire alarm systems, and twenty-four who have contacted the City to request information or provide a written plan for how they will bring their buildings into compliance.
According to Chief Berg, the Minnesota State Fire Code (MSFC) has required that apartment buildings with seventeen or more units to have a three featured fire alarm system since 2005. The three features include the installation of smoke and heat detectors in common areas, such as corridors, boiler and furnace rooms, laundry rooms, and mechanical/electrical rooms. The second feature of these systems is that they be equipped with annunciation devices (devices producing more than seventy decibels of sound in the apartment unit) that are installed in each corridor or apartment unit. The third feature is that this fire alarm system must be wired to a fire alarm panel that is tied to one of several outside alarm monitoring companies, such as Electro Watchman, SimplexGrinnell, or ADT.
There are several reasons why the response has been slow to develop. First, the conversion of fire alarm systems is very expensive for apartment owners. Given the expense, and the fact that there are existing fire alarm systems in individual units as well as in the corridors of most multifamily units, the City's Fire Marshall Ralph Messer has been willing to grant additional time to apartment owners who have been willing to file a plan whereby the owner identifies a schedule for installation of the state's three tiered system. Another factor contributing to the slow response of apartment owners is the Fire Departments inspection schedule. With more than 650 rental property buildings (over 4,000 units) in Fridley, the Fridley Fire Department must adopt an inspection schedule that accommodates their staffing levels. The bottom line is that the size and complexity of the rental inspection program permits common area inspections of Fridley's apartment units no more frequently than once every two years.
Where does the Fire Department go from here? According to Chief Berg, during 2010, the Fire Department's inspectors have contacted the owners of each of the twenty-nine non-compliant or partially compliant buildings to ascertain where the owner(s) is with plans to install the required alarm systems. Each will be given additional time to complete the alarm system upgrades; however, in no case will they permit the non-compliant owners to stretch the process out longer than December 31, 2011. After that date, the units will be posted to prevent further occupancy and their owners will be issued a criminal citation for non-compliance with state law.
According to Chief Berg, the required fire alarm systems do make a difference and do potentially save lives. He indicates that Fridley has had two recent apartment fires that had positive outcomes due to the new fire alarm systems. In both cases the full corridor smoke detection system helped detect the fire a lot earlier than might ordinarily have been the case. The horns in the corridor and the individual units enabled all tenants to safely exit the building before the corridor became filled with smoke and before anyone was in serious jeopardy. In another recent fire in a forty-two unit structure, where the owner had not been compliant with the state fire code's alarm system requirements, a tenant discovered a hallway filled with smoke at about 1:30 a.m. The fire alarm system had not activated because the exit corridor has no smoke detectors. Fortunately, the tenant pulled a manual alarm system; however, had the fire been more serious in nature the first floor hallway would not have been usable due to the accumulation of heavy smoke. Residents would have been forced to exit the building through their apartment windows.