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“Down quite a bit”
To head off potentially dangerous shortages, chiefs everywhere rely more and more on strong “mutual aid” agreements with neighboring cities to make sure sufficient help arrives at the scene of fires, Rosendahl said. Some cities employ “automatic aid,” when emergency dispatchers alert several fire departments to save precious response time.
“It’s not just the fire chiefs’ problem,” Rosendahl said. “Communities need to pay more attention to the services that are there. What most citizens believe, quite frankly, is that their fire departments have full-time staff which is not the case.”
In Bloomington, which has six fire stations, three-person duty crews are scheduled at three of them. Chief Ulysses Seal said, “You’ll find a lot of different flavors” in how duty crews are configured as cities try to find the best use of their money. His department, authorized for 155 firefighters, has 120.
“We’re down quite a bit,” Seal said.
The Stillwater Fire Department, with a $1.1 million annual budget, covers a 61-square-mile area. That zone includes 24,000 people, nine schools, the St. Croix River, the Washington County Government Center and several senior apartment buildings with hundreds of residents.
The vote to loosen the budget for more full-time firefighters in Stillwater came after Council Member Doug Menikheim delivered an impassioned appeal for more resources.
“We’re playing with life and death here, you know that,” Menikheim said after Glaser’s presentation.
Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037