In 16 minutes, a small stovetop fire can crackle and explode into flames that engulf an entire house.
The Inver Grove Heights Fire Department responds to most calls in five to 10 minutes, but in the city’s southeastern parts — which are farthest from the city’s two fire stations — it takes up to 16 minutes for help to arrive.
“[That’s] double our normal response time,” said Joe Lynch, Inver Grove Heights’ city administrator. “It was starting to be a challenge and a concern for protecting lives and property because of the length of time to get there.”
After identifying the need years ago, the growing suburb has finally found a spot for its third fire station, a project that will reduce the department’s response times on medical and fire calls and provide more training space.
Officials completed the $1.9 million purchase of an 11.7-acre site in the southeastern part of the city in late October and hope to complete construction of a $10.5 million, 22,000-square-foot building by January 2019.
“I’m very excited,” said Fire Chief Judy Thill. “This actually goes back 20-plus years.”
The department knew it needed a third station, Thill said, long before she arrived in 2007. But the economy went downhill and the project stalled, even as the city grew.
Inver Grove Heights, with more than 35,000 residents, has nearly tripled its population since the 1960s.
Fire and medical calls have increased, too, from an average of 1,300 annually for the past few years to a projected 1,500 in 2017, Thill said.
The city’s two stations were built decades ago, one in the early 1970s and the other in 1987, in the northern third of the city.
Mutual aid agreements with Eagan and Rosemount help with medical emergencies and fires, but the city needs to be able to protect its residents and businesses on its own, Lynch said. The city’s southeastern quadrant is largely industrial and commercial businesses. Those companies will likely see their insurance premiums decrease with a firehouse nearby, Lynch said.
The parcel the city bought exceeds present needs. The city plans to use about 5½ acres for the station and eventually sell the other six acres to recoup some of the project’s cost. The city hired an architect to design the station, which will have space for training exercises. Instead of going to another city, firefighters will practice rescue operations — like rope rescue and hose advancement drills — in-house, Thill said.
But getting to homes and businesses during a crisis is the primary goal, she added. “It should make a significant difference in response times.”