Eagan is considering a plan to close three of its five fire stations, build a new one and renovate another as part of a revamped fire department.
The consolidation plan — which would need to be approved as part of the city’s 2015 budget — emerges from a study that began about two years ago. If approved, the changes would likely roll out over four years.
Much of the cutback in station numbers stems from the challenge of maintaining a voluntary firefighting force.
At a recent City Council work session, Fire Chief Mike Scott said the department continues to have a hard time replacing volunteers who leave the force. Staffing is at it lowest level since the late 1980s.
“We’re really struggling to staff five stations,” Scott said.
Earlier this year, Eagan took steps to bridge the gap in its voluntary force by getting a federal grant of almost $900,000 to add one full-time, paid fire captain and four firefighters.
The city also has bolstered its ranks through a dorm program, where rent-free housing is provided to paid on-call firefighters. A dorm with six firefighters currently is at the city’s newest facility, the fire safety center and station west of Lexington Avenue and south of Yankee Doodle Road.
Scott said participants in the dorm program tend to be younger people who often are interested in careers in public safety. “It’s a good résumé builder for them and allows us to recruit paid, on-call firefighters,” he said.
Scott said the department would be able to add to dorms at a new fire station. The council directed the department in 2012 to find a site for a possible new station and last year approved buying about four acres of vacant land at Blackhawk and Diffley roads for $625,000.
The land purchase is expected to close next month. Scott said the site is at a prime location and would be easy to sell to a business user if the city were to decide to not build a station.
“There would be considerable interest from private parties,” he said. The cost to build a new station would be $4.5 million.
The three fire stations slated to close under the consolidation proposal might not be as easy to market.
The best prospect for a resale appears to be Fire Station 5 at 4701 Galaxie Av. The city hasn’t hired a broker but has determined that the building has a market value of about $840,000.
Fire Station 3 at 4390 Pilot Knob Road could be turned over to HealthEast, which already provides ambulance service in Eagan. Fire Station 1 at 3940 Rahn Road could be reused as a city storage facility.
Scott said he expects the renovation and expansion of Fire Station 4 at 4200 Dodd Road would be done before a new station would be built. The changes would include adding a bay to accommodate equipment that would be transferred from station 3 after it closed.
Eagan’s fire department already has the best Insurance Services Office rating of any city in Minnesota, a distinction that can translate to lower insurance rates for commercial property owners. The consolidation plan would retain that good rating.
The council reacted positively to the department’s proposals.
“Public safety is critical and has to be a priority,” said Council Member Gary Hansen.
“It certainly seems reasonable right now,” said Mayor Mike Maguire. “The question is how many other reasonable requests will we have [in the proposed budget]?”