Dedication to community drives Basin Electric employee to be of service

Residents in Mercer and Oliver County, North Dakota, know the importance of the Beulah Rural Fire Protection District. This volunteer crew covers a 350-square-mile area and is always there when help is needed.

Eli Schumann, maintenance field technician at the Great Plains Synfuels Plant, has been a member of the Beulah fire department since 2006 and has served as Beulah fire chief since 2016.

“I started in high school in Stanton [North Dakota] when the department came to school looking for daytime volunteers. I wasn’t 18 yet so I had to get my parents’ permission but they agreed, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Schumann says.

Beulah Fire Chief, and Dakota Gas maintenance field technician, Eli Schumann.

Members of the department are on-call 24/7, and as fire chief, Schumann says he never knows how many people will respond to a call.

“You don’t know until the trucks start calling in as to how many we’ve got. When I figure that out, it helps make my decision if I’m calling for mutual aid,” he says.

When it comes to structural fires, the Beulah Rural Fire Protection District has an agreement with Hazen Fire and Rescue. Beulah and Hazen, North Dakota, are the biggest departments in the county, so both are automatically paged if there’s a structural fire so they can work together to put it out as quickly as possible.

Such was the case in late August when a fire at the Spring Creek railroad bridge near Beulah caught fire. This eight-mile section of railway is the only way to move product in or out of Dakota Gasification Company (DGC), Antelope Valley Station (AVS), and The Coteau Properties Company’s Freedom Mine. When Beulah Rural Fire Protection District was paged to the scene, mutual aid was requested from Hazen Fire and Rescue to help put out the fire. Read more about the fire and construction of the new bridge.

Schumann says his department usually averages three calls per month, but 2020 has been an exceptionally busy year.

“This year we are at 36 calls so far. We’ve been paged out for fires, carbon monoxide, traffic control at accidents, and ambulance assists,” he says. “With it being so dry this year, we are watching the weather and anticipating potential fires this fall.”

Schumann says he is thankful that Basin Electric lets him and his crew leave work when there’s a call, as long as they have supervisor approval.

“Basin has been really supportive of us responding to calls because they’re supportive of community involvement,” Schumann says.

He also appreciates the way the co-op puts safety first by giving eight hours of rest time to an employee who was out all night on a call.

“If I get a call at 9 p.m. and it doesn’t wrap up until 7 a.m., I can call my supervisor and he’ll tell me to sleep for eight hours and then come in. Some years you have a bunch of overnight calls and some years you don’t have any, but having that extra sleep makes a big difference in doing your job safely.” he says.

A lot of the Beulah fire crew is made up of power plant employees. “I have a lot of guys at DGC, AVS, Coteau Freedom Mine, and Coyote Station. My supervisor is one of my captains,” Schumann says. “We also have business owners that help during the day. That helps a lot with the daytime coverage.”

When it comes to being a volunteer firefighter, it’s a full-time job. Balance that with family and working full-time, and it’s easy to see what a gift these volunteer individuals are to the community.

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