Fridley’s fire chief is trying to attract more paid on-call firefighters with hands-on recruiting events and the message that the duty is a chance to make a difference, perhaps a life-saving one.
You can live the childhood dream, save lives, even impress your kids — and keep your day job.
That’s the message of a new recruitment effort launched by the Fridley Fire Department. Fridley has five full-time firefighter positions but, like most Minnesota cities, relies heavily on paid on-call members.
The Fire Department budget is around $1.1 million a year, and Fire Chief John Berg estimates that using about 30 paid on-call firefighters saves the city more than $2 million a year.
But it’s become more difficult to fill those positions as people are pulled in many directions with family commitments and demanding careers.
“It’s a struggle. It’s painful,” Berg said. “It’s just been harder to get on-call and volunteer firefighters. That’s a national issue. According to some of the studies that the National Fire Protection Association has done, it’s just an issue of time. You have to invest a lot of time in it.”
Of the 20,600 firefighters in Minnesota, 18,600 are either volunteer or paid on-call, usually receiving a nominal fee for each emergency.
Berg hopes that some fresh recruiting tactics will pull in people who long ago dreamed of being a firefighter. To spark some interest, the Fridley department hosted a pair of first-ever interactive clinics where possible recruits could try on equipment, climb the ladder truck, put on a cold-water survival suit and jump into a water tank.
Participants were also able to strap on 60 pounds of gear and walk through a simulated building fire at the Fridley training facility and talk to firefighters.
“It helps get them in and see what we’re doing, getting them excited about doing the job,” Berg said. “Firefighting is a teamwork job. …
“This event puts aside some of the things you see on television or in the media. It gives them an opportunity to try it out and talk to the firefighters and say, ‘Hey, they are real people like me. They are day-care providers, clergy and engineers.’”
Capt. Renee Hamdorf, one of the full-time Fridley firefighters, oversaw the two recruiting events. A big part of the mission is letting people know this opportunity exists. “People assume we’re a full-time department,” Hamdorf said.
Training and work
It’s a big commitment. There are written and physical tests as part of the application process. If selected, a person puts in nearly a year of firefighting and EMT training.
The department responds to about 3,000 emergency calls a year. More than half are medical in nature. Fridley on-call firefighters earn $16 an hour for calls, and there is a retirement package for long-serving individuals.
“We are asking people to give up Christmas dinner if the pager goes off, to leave a kids sports event,” Hamdorf said.
The payoffs are big, too.
“I’ve delivered a baby. I’ve done CPR and saved lives,” Hamdorf said, describing her 14 years as a firefighter.