Construction crews are hard at work building Lino Lakes’ new fire station before the city debuts its own fire division in January.

During a groundbreaking ceremony in May, construction crews stopped for a few moments so speakers could take a ceremonial photo, then continued working.

The new station will mark the beginning of Lino Lakes’ own fire division. The city is withdrawing from the collaborative Centennial Lakes Fire District in 2014, and the agreement ends at the end of the year. The other cities in the district are Circle Pines and Centerville, which will operate a joint fire department.

Lino Lakes owns one fire station operating under the Centennial Lakes Fire District. After the transition, that station will provide service to the north and west parts of the city. The station currently under construction, located on the southeast corner of Birch Street and Centerville Road, will serve the south and east portions of the city.

Quinn Hutson, of Apple Valley-based CNH Architects, said the state-of-the-art building will feature 11 out of the 12 training elements for firefighters, including ladder- and confined-space rescues.

“If they aren’t doing [training exercises] at the fire station, then they have to go to another site,” Hutson said.

The only training element not included in the design of the station is an actual fire, said John Swenson, the city’s public safety director. The training elements add an extra advantage because it’s expensive to rent sites for training, so “you would train just enough for recertification, but now we can train anytime we want as much as we want on those critical skill sets … and provide very high-qualified services,” Swenson said.

The city has been recruiting new members for the division. By August, it will have 32 certified firefighters. Swenson said he hopes to have a total of 42 firefighters by January. New recruits include “a wide range of folks,” he said. There’s a former pharmacist, an attorney, business owners, mechanics, college graduates, working professionals and firefighters who have worked at other stations.

The city will also cross-train 21 of its police officers, Swenson said.

Officers will carry firefighting gear in their patrol SUVs and respond to fire emergencies. “This integrated model reduces the demand on our paid on-call firefighters and reduces the burnout factor, which all paid on-call fire departments see,” he said.

He hopes the amount of “fire pagers” will be cut in half as police officers “absorb the call load.”

“Yes, it’s a new skill set for [police officers] … reacting under pressure and making stressful decisions — that’s what they do,” Swenson said. “They are well versed in the demands of the job. And our new folks — we invested to make sure the absolute the best training we can.”

The firefighter training program is “demanding and rigorous,” equivalent to 10 college credits in a five-month time frame, Swenson said. Lino Lakes will spend $400,000 on training and start-up costs in 2015, with the new combined police and fire department becoming fully operational on Jan. 1.


Twitter: @KarenAnelZamora