DFD Saw Record Number of Calls, Increase in Structure Fires in 2020

DULUTH, Minn.– 2020 was a year filled with change for fire and emergency responders across the country due to the pandemic, including right here in the Northland. Those at the Duluth Fire Department have been working through the circumstances to try and keep Duluthians safe.

The Duluth Fire Department released its incident report for 2020, where fire and EMS responders were called into action more than they’ve ever been before.

The department saw numbers in several categories change from the previous year, including a record number of incidents.

“One of the big things that we noticed was our overall runs went up again. Record high of just over 14,000,” said Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj.

The fire department responded to 141 structure fires in 2020, up 51 from 2019 and the highest number since 2015. Fire chief Krizaj says they’ve been seeing an uptick in kitchen fires, which they believe is from more people staying at home due to the pandemic.

“It’s very east to start something on the stove and easily be distracted with something like a phone call or a meeting,” said Krizaj. “Or maybe you’re helping your kid as they’re doing remote learning or something like that.”

The pandemic has meant changes with the DFD in 2020, including masking and social distancing protocols at the station and on calls along with moving fire marshal staff into operations to get more responders on hand.

“We were made to isolate from one another whereas normally this is our second family here,” said DFD Captain Brian Black. “It was all for good safety. It was all for good reason. It was to keep not only to keep the public safe but to keep our members safe. And that was tough on some guys.”

Not all calls went up, the Duluth Fire Department went to 433 fewer medical calls in the past year, which officials believe is likely from people feeling hesitant to get in an ambulance and go to the hospital during the pandemic.

But in an unprecedented year and with a  record amount of calls, Krizaj says the DFD has been ready for every one of them.

“We’ve had the most calls for service that we’ve ever had in the history of the fire department and not on day did we have a rig out of service due to quarantine or staff shortages. Not one day did we miss a call,” said Krizaj.

The high number of fires did create a lot of damage around the city. According to the city, it’s estimated that over $3.8 million of property damage took place due to fires. It was the highest since 2016, which was only $2.8 million.

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