TOWER— The Tower fire and ambulance departments have been hit by potential sabotage by an unknown individual or individuals this week. The incidents, which appeared to be directed primarily at …
TOWER— The Tower fire and ambulance departments have been hit by potential sabotage by an unknown individual or individuals this week. The incidents, which appeared to be directed primarily at disabling the city’s primary fire engine, also left the city without a working ambulance for a period of time on Tuesday.
The first sign of trouble was apparent Monday morning, when a member of the ambulance staff heard a low voltage alarm sounding on the city’s main fire engine. After some investigation, fire staff discovered that the truck’s master switch had been turned on, contributing to the drain on the battery. At the same time, an automatic battery charger on the vehicle and an air compressor that powers the truck’s air brakes were both inoperable because the circuit that powers them had been tripped. The portable battery charger, that Fire Chief Paige Olson says has been at the hall for years, also appeared to be missing.
Fire staff were able to turn both the automatic charger and compressor back on. Meanwhile, city maintenance staff brought another portable charger to the station, which enabled fire staff to start the engine. Olson later took the rig to a repair shop for inspection before returning it to service later in the day.
Monday’s incident likely would have been dismissed as accidental or a coincidence, but the situation appeared far more troubling on Tuesday, when EMS staff discovered that someone had been in the hall subsequent to the return of the fire engine and had apparently climbed up to switch off a power strip that powered both the automatic battery charger and the air compressor.
It appears that in doing so, the saboteur cut him or herself fairly badly, as a significant amount of what appeared to have been blood was found in one of the ambulances, with lesser amounts discovered in the second ambulance and in the city’s main fire engine. Samples of the blood were provided to the Breitung Police Department and Police Chief Dan Nylund confirmed that he did forward the samples to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for analysis.
“This is not okay,” said Interim Ambulance Director Dena Suikhonen. “Somebody is messing with us, and they’re endangering people’s lives. This is not a little game. This is not pretend. This is real.”
According to Suikhonen, there is reason to believe that whoever is responsible also tampered with one or both of the ambulances that were inside the hall at the time. At least one of the rigs was also taken to a repair shop for an inspection to ensure that there wasn’t potentially more serious damage. The second ambulance also required cleaning to remove the blood, a potential biohazard.
Perhaps most troubling is that whoever entered the facility apparently had the entrance code since there was no sign of a break-in.
While the city’s EMS officials did change the code to the hall in the wake of the dismissal of former fire chief and ambulance director Steve Altenburg and the subsequent resignation of several members of the fire department, Mayor Orlyn Krinstad said the city will be upgrading the locking system for the hall to prevent such intrusions from happening again.
“My main concern is for the safety and security of the citizens of Tower and surrounding townships,” said Kringstad. “We need to have our equipment in working order so we can respond effectively whenever there’s an emergency.”