With its inaugural page, the Nowthen Fire Department on Monday morning was commissioned to serve.
"Welcome to firefighting," the broadcast announcement from Anoka County Public Safety said. "Congratulations."
A few hours later, firefighters answered the new department's first call: A tree had fallen on power lines.
Nowthen, in northwestern Anoka County, became a city 13 years ago and contracted with neighboring Ramsey for fire services. But rising administrative costs and different service needs in the two communities led to an amicable breakup and separate departments.
As many as 15 firefighters who had been on Ramsey's payroll will shift to Nowthen.
"This will be much better for Nowthen," said Mayor Jeff Pilon. "The only difference is that firefighters' paycheck will say 'Nowthen' rather than 'Ramsey.' Most people won't even know what happened."
Conversations about ending the contract started two years ago as the cities began going in different directions. Ramsey's population has swelled to nearly 28,000 while Nowthen — home to the county's last remaining dairy farm — has remained largely rural, with a population of about 5,000. Firefighters from the joint department responded to about 100 calls a year in Nowthen, most of which were for car crashes and people needing medical assistance.
Ramsey wanted to charge Nowthen about $160,000 in administrative costs, which Pilon said he thought was excessive.
"Let's look at something differently," he said. "We decided to be independent."
Nowthen isn't starting totally from scratch. As the city leaves its arrangement with Ramsey, it will take a fire engine, tanker, rescue rig, hoses, air packs and other equipment with it. Nowthen also gains the fire station at 19888 NW. Nowthen Boulevard. It recently expanded with added training space and places for firefighters to dress and store gear.
Nowthen will pay St. Francis $75,000 a year for the next three years — about half of what it would have paid Ramsey — to have that city's chief, David Schmidt, and his assistant chief oversee the startup and head the department.
Schmidt said he has attended a lot of meetings and taken scores of phone calls in recent months, working to draft guidelines and policies, secure supplies and equipment and increase the roster of firefighters. He said he hopes to hire more by summer.
"It will take time to build a robust program in Nowthen," Schmidt said. "It's a lot more than I thought. It is awfully exciting — a unique opportunity to go from a shared service model to making the step to be an independent organization."
The Minnesota Fire Marshal's Office doesn't track how often fire departments split, but "it is not a common occurrence," said spokeswoman Jen Longaecker. It did happen in Anoka County in 2016 when Lino Lakes left the Centennial Fire District, composed of Centerville and Circle Pines, and branched out on its own.
City Council members in Ramsey earlier this month passed a resolution officially severing the ties with Nowthen, with Mayor Mark Kuzma wishing his eastern neighbors "good luck."
Pilon, Nowthen's mayor, said the goal is to be collaborative with surrounding communities.
Firefighters expressed some trepidation when the split first came up, Pilon said, but have since embraced the plan. Many of those hired already live in Nowthen, he said.
"They are excited to be part of this new organization," the mayor said. "There is a lot of positive energy. They are excited about having a Nowthen badge on the truck."