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Improper bedrooms: Dickinson Fire Department finds people sleeping in shops

By Katherine Granstand / Dickinson Press - To skirt the high cost of housing in the Oil Patch, some Dickinson companies have resorted to stashing employees in make-shift bedrooms next to trucks, Dickinson Fire Chief Bob Sivak reported Tuesday.

In his monthly report to the Dickinson City Commission, Sivak said building inspectors have found several bedrooms built into shops, with employees sleeping just feet away from trucks and tankers in bedrooms or RVs parked inside. He did not disclose which companies were guilty of the infractions.

Mobile equipment allowing inspectors to be out in the field more has helped crews catch the behavior, Sivak said. The fire department finds approximately one misplaced living quarter a week.

“We’re finding them through our routine fire inspections which, unfortunately, we’re still 24 months out on,” he said.

Despite the illegal nature of the activity, no citations have been issued because building owners, who often rent out their property and are unaware of tenants’ activities, have been compliant in removing sleeping quarters from their property, Sivak said.

The fire department also works with the Community Development Department to clear up any infractions.

“We’ve had some good cooperation,” he said. “As far as fining them, we haven’t had anything come to that.”

The danger with this situation arises in that emergency crews are unaware of people residing in shops when called to an incident, Sivak said. Some shops had room for half a dozen or more employees.

“We don’t know they’re there,” he said. “We respond to a fire call to that building at 2 in the morning, we’re responding to a shop — we’re responding to a commercial or industrial occupancy, not a residential facility. We have no idea they’re there.”

Concern also focused on the safety of the people living in non-residential situations.

“My question is, if we called Southwest District Health and they went and looked at that facility, I’m sure that they would certainly have something to say about that,” Commissioner Shirley Dukart said. “That is putting those — obviously the people that own the company were leasing the building and they were putting their staff at risk.”

Commission President Dennis Johnson wondered if more could be done to prevent the behavior.

“These are serious situations,” he said. “Is there something more that can be done here? Otherwise, if there’s really no penalty, I think they’re going to continue doing this.

“They have no motivation to not do it in the first place if they can do it until they’re caught and then we just make sure they comply,” Johnson said.

The city has penalties and fines it can apply to cases like these, City Attorney Matt Kolling said. The highest fine as the ordinance stands is $1,000.

“It just seems strange to me that we can write a ticket for jaywalking and we can’t write a ticket for this,” Johnson said.

Commissioner Gene Jackson said this was a perfect example of what happens when Oil Patch communities are denied funding for infrastructure.

“This wouldn’t be happening if we had cost-effective housing,” he said. “This is the kind of thing that if we can’t extend our infrastructure and get the housing that comes with that it will keep happening.”

Jackson wanted Johnson and City Administrator Shawn Kessel to bring this information to the Senate Finance Committee in Bismarck at a meeting scheduled for today.

“In one of the cases our staff on scene asked the question, ‘Have you looked at whether there are apartments available, whether there are hotels available?’” Sivak said. “And the comment was made, ‘They may be available, but at the current rate that’s being charged this is the way our company chose to go.’”

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