At the Mdewakanton fire station in Prior Lake, it isn’t unusual for firefighters to don their training gear at 2 a.m.
Emergency responders sometimes challenge themselves by throwing the CPR dummy in the swamp or by conducting simulated exercises outside in a snowstorm. They do things differently, and apparently that’s paid off.
Earlier this month, the Mdewakanton Public Safety department earned a Class 2 performance rating from the Insurance Services Office (ISO), a distinction that can translate to lower insurance rates for commercial property owners. The designation, which evaluates a community’s overall firefighting capability on a 1-to-10 scale with 1 being the best, ranks them among the top 2 percent of fire departments nationwide and puts them in the same class as St. Paul, Bloomington and Winona — the only other cities in the state to hold that classification.
So far, no Minnesota fire department has earned an ISO 1 rating. Departments typically earn between 5 and 7, officials said.
Greg Hayes, director of Mdewakanton Public Safety, attributed the improved rating to changes in how the 32-person crew deploys on crisis calls. A new state-of-the-art fire truck helps responders get out the door in just 90 seconds and douse water on a burning structure within three minutes of the first 911 call. Quick response times help set them apart, he said.
“That’s not easy to do,” Hayes said of their full-point uptick. “All these little tweaks paid off.”
ISO is a third-party organization that evaluates the quality of service of more than 46,000 American fire departments. Thorough ISO inspections are meant to assess the risk for local homeowners by calculating factors such as water availability, emergency communications and community risk reduction.
The Mdewakanton Public Safety department received high marks in each category, including recognition for its personnel training and fire code enforcement. They also received perfect scores in subcategories like incident management systems, which relates to how the crew prepares for and handles large special events on tribal land.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC), a federally recognized, sovereign Native American tribe located about 30 minutes southwest of Minneapolis, founded their own fire brigade in 2001 to serve a rapidly expanding community. As tribal-owned Mystic Lake Casino Hotel and Little Six Casino grew, it put more stress on Prior Lake and Shakopee city services.
“The tribe said ‘You know what, we’re gonna own this problem. We’re not going to keep passing this off,’ ” Hayes said. “We’re going to be responsible for our community.”
Since then, the fire station has served several thousand daily entertainment seekers and residents inside a 7-square-mile jurisdiction. At least eight people work every shift to ensure the station is staffed 24/7 and frequently provide mutual aid to neighboring suburbs.
Nowadays, a high-tech control room sits within the bowels of the station, where colored schematics of SMSC enterprises and flat-screen TVs tracking aerial images of the property help responders monitor big crowds and respond to calls for service. When nearby Canterbury Park hosts a live horse race, for example, someone will be tasked with keeping their eyes glued to video feeds from the area.
Last year, the SMSC’s business council purchased the first truck of its kind in the state, combining the capabilities of a fire engine, a ladder truck and emergency medical services into one vehicle.
The department also owns a mobile command center. Disguised as an RV, the tricked-out vehicle is equipped with emergency medical supplies and space for tactical operations should a large-scale emergency occur.
Tribal Chairman Charles R. Vig said SMSC chose to invest in these tools and a full-time paid public safety staff because leaders value self-sufficient government.
“The safety of our people and the patrons who come enjoy entertainment in our community is our top priority,” he said.
Liz Sawyer 612-673-4648