After a messy two-year split with the Centennial Fire District, the new Lino Lakes Fire Division is open for business.
Residents may notice some significant changes: A second fire station has opened, engines no longer respond to all medical calls — and most of the city’s cops are now also firefighters.
Nearly all the city’s 26 police officers have undergone cross-training, joining a small number of cities including Woodbury that have combined police and fire services into a single public safety department.
Officers carry their firefighting and emergency medical gear in their police sports-utility vehicles. About 20 paid on-call firefighters also are available for emergencies.
The new division began responding to calls on Dec. 28.
“This transition has gone smoothly,” said Public Safety Director John Swenson. “We are confident our community will be provided with the highest level of service.”
The new public safety department will be more strategic in responding to emergencies, Swenson said. Fire engines will no longer be automatically dispatched on all medical calls.
For example, a recent 911 call on a fish hook lodged in an angler’s finger would not require a fire engine and crew, he said. “You will definitely get an ambulance. You will definitely get a cop,” Swenson said.
But a call of a heart attack in progress would warrant firefighters, police officers and an ambulance, Swenson said.
City leaders say the changes will not jeopardize response times or quality of care.
“We looked at three years of data. On average, the fire truck arrives seven seconds before the ambulance,” Swenson said.
Lino Lakes averages about one structure fire a year, Swenson said. Many of the remaining 600 calls that the fire department typically responds to annually are for medical emergencies, carbon monoxide alarms and suspected false alarms. A police officer with firefighter training can handle many of those calls, Swenson said.
Swenson estimates fire engines will now respond to about 250 calls a year.
Another big change was made when Lino Lakes last month opened its second fire station on the south side of the city. The new 15,000-square-foot facility includes room for training as well as space and infrastructure to set up an backup emergency operations center. The north side fire station, formerly operated by the Centennial district, is now part of the Lino Lakes department.
Lino Lakes Mayor Jeff Reinert said the new $3.9 million fire station and police-firefighter cross-training could speed up response times.
“Our cross-trained police officers/firefighters will be [cruising] the streets of Lino Lakes 24/7 with squads equipped to handle police, medical or fire emergencies, and get there faster than ever before,” Reinert said in an e-mail. “Remember that our police service has always been first on the scene.”
In 2014, the Lino Lakes City Council voted to leave the Centennial Fire District after a power struggle soured the 30-year collaboration between Lino Lakes, Centerville and Circle Pines. Costs were determined by calls for service, so Lino Lakes — surging ahead in population — was paying nearly 70 percent of the annual costs while maintaining only one-third control of the department.