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Lansford Strong

Charlie Adams
 July 12, 2022
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LANSFORD -- This is a small town about 20 miles north of the Minot Air Force Base where service to country and service to community intersect.  Specifically, they come together at the Lansford Rural Volunteer Fire Department.   

While other area small communities are constantly struggling to find volunteers, the Lansford Fire Department is about 30 firefighters strong.  The mix of volunteers includes Lansford residents, area farmers and their farmhands, and a contingent of Lansford area residents who are also full-time active-duty United States Air Force personnel.   

While the Air Force personnel come and go through the completion of their service commitment at the Base, there are always a good number of them who chose to live in rural areas and not on the Base or in Minot.  One of those rural communities that has always had Air Force service members in it is Lansford.  And as a result, these service-minded individuals often choose to be a part of the volunteer firefighting force.   

“We rotate through Air Force people, but there is always at least 10 in our department, and they tell their buddies about it. They either live in our town or the area about 5 miles around it,” said Lansford Fire Chief Matt Undlin.  

 Building up the personnel numbers has been a process over the years, but now that there are about 30 volunteer members, it is easy to maintain.   

“It’s easier to recruit the thirtieth person than it is the sixth person on a force because there isn’t as much pressure to be on every single call,” Undlin said.   

The Air Force service men and women also fit in well with the local volunteers because of the tight bond that the locals share with the department. Undlin notes that a lot of the local members are on because their dad and/or grandpa was a member in the past. 

  “The same is true with rural fire departments across the state,” said Undlin. “I think it’s like 95% of all volunteers are the son or daughter of a previous firefighter.”

 

New Fire Hall 

About 5 years ago, the Lansford Fire Protection District started the conversation about building a new fire hall.  They were simply outgrowing the old one.  Now, with construction recently complete, the new fire hall stands out as one of the nicest buildings in the town.  The volunteer firefighters coordinated fund raising efforts and also successfully made the pitch to the voters of the fire district to levy a tax increase.  In addition, the department leadership has combed through grant opportunities to apply for. 

One of the best fundraising efforts has been the start of a new, annual community event – snowmobile drag races on the grass at the Lansford Country Club.  While it is a challenge to plan for and put on, the event brings snowmobile racers from all over the multi-state region and spectators from miles around.  The race has been in October the last two years and it’s been a tremendous fundraiser for the department. Undlin hopes the volunteers and the community will be inspired to keep it going for years to come.  

Challenges for the Future 

As mentioned previously, it is easier to recruit the 30th member of the force than it is the 6th.  The strength in numbers makes it easier to distribute the workload across many shoulders.  Undlin wishes the same were true for the local ambulance services.   

“The Mohall Ambulance crew is having a hard time,” said Undlin.  “They are having to go to mandatory shifts.”  

 Many of those personnel are now paid for the work that they do.  If things got bad on the fire side, paying firefighters would have to be the way to go and that would be a tremendous, if not impossible, strain on an already tight budget.  Undlin is also the president of the Mouse River Firefighters Association and many of its member departments are fading fast. 

  “When you have 3 or 4 guys supporting a fire department for a community of about 100, that means eventually departments will have to consolidate and then response times get longer,” explained Undlin. 

 Undlin has also noticed a trend of more medial related calls for the fire department.  These calls involve the medical first responders needing fire department assistance with traffic control at vehicle accident sites, lift assistance for fallen or incapacitated patients, and the worst case scenario – having to respond to a suicide.   

“In our town of only about 250 people, I can remember 4 suicides in my time on the department,” Undlin recalled.   

Mental health awareness has been in the forefront of even our small communities and Undlin stated that he has noticed an increase in calls due to “mental health issues” stemming from the COVID pandemic.   

With farming practices changing to bigger and more complicated equipment and grain storage facilities, and our local fire departments getting more and more spread out over time, there is a very serious need to support our local volunteers.  If you would like to donate or just learn more about what the Lansford Fire Department is doing, you can contact Chief Matt Undlin directly at 701-263-7112.     

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