Fire Department moving ladder truck following Crosstown construction, budget cuts

Minneapolis Fire Department’s Ladder Truck No. 5, which serves Southwest neighborhoods, is moving for the third time in about seven years as the department tries to adequately respond to fires amidst budget cuts and road construction.

For some neighborhoods the move will mean quicker response times, but for others it will slow the time it takes the trucks to respond to a fire. The idea, fire department officials said, is that Ladder 5 is best suited for a station on 38th Street just east of I-35W, a centralized location in Southwest.

Ladder trucks are usually not the first fire apparatuses to arrive at a fire, but they are important because ladder companies are charged with searching for and rescuing victims.

On Jan. 1, Ladder 5 will move from Station 27, at the corner of 54th and Nicollet Avenue, to Station 17 on 38th St. E., which is about two-and-a-half miles north. The truck was placed at Station 27 in 2007 in order to navigate road construction on I-35W and Highway 62.

For residents living in the south part of the Armatage neighborhood, ladder trucks will take about three minutes longer to arrive, according to Fire Department response time models. But for a structure in the heart of Uptown, response times will quicken by 2-and-a-half minutes.

While the southern neighborhoods of Southwest will have slower response times than in the northern part, Assistant Chief of Operations Dave DeWall said the Fire Department has to consider the heavier workloads in Uptown and the dense population that stretches north to Downtown.

“When I say an extended response time, it’s not like we’re breaking the bank,” DeWall said. “We’re still meeting a standard. The response time for Ladder 5 from Station 17 will still fall into a nationally accepted standard of providing all of my necessary resources on the fire ground inside of a nine-minute mark.”

The move will have no effect on how quickly the first fire engine arrives at the scene, but only change ladder truck response times, DeWall said.  

Ladder Truck 5’s nomadic history is the result of budget cuts in 2003, DeWall said. Prior to 2003, the Minneapolis Fire Department had a fleet of nine ladder trucks at stations across the city. After a $35 million cut in Local Government Aid to Minneapolis that year, the Fire Department eliminated 50 positions and three ladder trucks were cut because the department couldn’t afford to staff the rigs.  

Before that, Southwest Minneapolis enjoyed two ladder trucks, one at 54th and Nicollet and one at West 29th Street and Blaisdell Avenue. The budget cuts forced the elimination of one truck in Southwest. As a result, the Fire Department moved the remaining ladder truck to a location in the middle of where there had been two trucks — Station 17 on East 38th Street.

Then, in 2007, the Fire Department was concerned that it needed a truck further south because road construction on the Crosstown would slow response times as trucks navigated around closed roads and bridges.  

“The intention was that once that construction was completed, Ladder 5 would move back to Station 17,” said Fire Chief Alex Jackson, who was appointed in 2008.

The situation is not ideal, DeWall said, but the department is making the most with the funding it has. However, the Minneapolis Fire Department, under the Mayor’s proposed 2011 budget, will need to cut about $2.3 million.

The department plans to reduce its workforce by 30 firefighters and eliminate a deputy chief and three administrative positions.

DeWall and Jackson say those reductions will not result in the closing of another ladder truck in 2011, but DeWall could not make any promises beyond next year.

“In 2011 we are going to be riding very, very close to our absolute minimum number of people we can put in our fire stations and still maintain service delivery,” he said. “That’s key. We’re maintaining our service delivery model.”

The Fire Department in 2007 laid out a four-year business plan. In it, the department compared its staffing and equipment to cities with similar populations, based on 2006 data.

Minneapolis falls somewhere in the middle for ladder trucks. St. Louis, for example, has about the same square mileage as Minneapolis, but only four ladder trucks. Pittsburg, on the other hand, is about the same size as Minneapolis but has 11 ladder trucks.

Jackson said it’s likely that other cities have cut ladder trucks since then, but he said the department hasn’t researched those cities current ladder truck stats since the 2007 business plan.

How response times will change at certain points in the city

Address  //  Current time  //  Jan. 1 time
44th and Zenith (Linden Hills)  //  5.8 minutes  //  5.8 minutes
1400 W. Lake St. (Uptown)  //  6.5 minutes  //  3.9 minutes
60th and Washburn (Armatage)  //  4.95 minutes  //  8.45 minutes
3100 Blaisdell (Lyndale)  //  5.23 minutes  //   2.33 minutes

These calculations are based on distance and speed limits, but do not take into consideration traffic, weather, number of intersections or number of turns. Souce: Minneapolis Fire Department