Eagan Fire Department at crossroads

The Eagan Fire Department has struggled to keep its ranks of paid, on-call firefighters at full strength through the years.

While the problem is not unique to Eagan, city officials are interested in finding a way to improve the situation.

Eagan retained Citygate Associates to perform a study on the fire department. The story found that the city is at a crossroads in both the Police Department emergency medical services first responder program and the fire department staffing model.

Eagan Fire Chief Mike Scott said during a special Eagan City Council meeting Tuesday it has been a challenge to find new paid, on-call firefighters to replace the ones who resign.

It’s a sizable investment to educate a paid, on-call firefighter between the hundreds of ours spent with initial certification and annual training.

“It takes a while to get that skill set up and if you’re only doing it on a part time basis, it takes a while,” Scott said.

Citygate found that the paid, on-call firefighting system no longer provides the city with robust fire services, but it is by no means broken nor did they recommend it be dissolved.

Stewart Gary, of Citygate, said there have been fundamental changes in society that have put tremendous pressure on community volunteers in recent years.

Factors such as two income households, pressure from families, pressure from employers and lifestyle changes have made it a challenge for volunteers to answer pages and for departments to retain educated firefighters.

One big factor, Gary said, is employers no longer allow employees to leave during the workday when they’re paged.

While he highly encouraged the city not to abandon the current system, he recommended a few changes to rebalance the system to replace paid, on-call firefighters will more full-time career firefighters.

“You have a rock star excellent department,” Gray said. “You do have emotionally connected and committed volunteers. You just don’t have enough of them.”

Citygate recommended the city consider funding a career staff force that would staff three stations around the clock every day of the year.

They presented a plan that would add 33 career personnel by 2024 and reduce the number of paid, on-call from 93 to 35 at an estimated cost of $2.7 million. The decrease in paid, on-call firefighters would happen through attrition.

Gray also recommended the city discuss how to alter scheduling and pension and/or payment system of paid, on-call firefighters to improve response time.

He said the department has a lower response time in evenings and after midnight.

Gray also recommended a plan for the police to transition away from heavy emergency medical services involvement to allow patrol officers to focus on other duties.

In Eagan’s history, the police department has traditionally been the first responder to emergency medical events since they’re on 24-hour patrol.

He said in most urbanized cities, the fire department is the first responder.

Scott said in neighboring Burnsville, 911 dispatchers contact the fire department first, but in Eagan they contact the police.

Gray said this is something that could be phased it over several years.

“As you grow career staffing, you back off the police need to respond to every single medical emergency,” Gray said.

The City Council reviewed the information and did not vote on any measures.

Eagan City Administrator Dave Osberg said the next step is to dig a little deeper with the finance committee.

He said the city is currently looking at the 2018-19 budgets.
Old station
Eagan officials determined two of their fire stations are no longer needed and will seek proposals for reuse or redevelopment.

The Fire Department has recently gone through a reorganization, which led to the construction of a new fire station at 4200 Blackhawk Road, which opened last month.

The plan leaves the former Station No. 1 at 3949 Rahn Road and Station No. 5 at 4701 Galaxie Ave. vacant.

The building at Rahn Road is surrounded by residential homes, apartments and a church. Officials say they plan to rezone the property limited business.

One potential issue is there’s a siren attached to the building. Scott said ideally they would leave the siren on the building and continue to have an easement on the site.

The Galaxie Avenue station is surrounded by single family homes. Plans for the station include rezoning for single family residential or office/mixed commercial.

Osberg said he visited with the building’s neighbors, who told him it was important to keep the trees.

The first step in any reuse will be an evaluation of the proposal. Purchase price will be one factor and the city reserves the right to reject any proposal.

Eagan Artworks has plans for the fire administration building at 3795 Pilot Knob Road.