The following article was acquired from the League of Minnesota Cities website and was written by Deborah Lynn Blumberg.
Eagan’s New Fire Department Model Brings Great Results
Over the last several years, Eagan had been growing at a fast clip. Yet even as the city experienced significant commercial growth and approached 70,000 residents, its Fire Department continued to follow a volunteer-based model.
The volunteer model was in line with 93% of the state’s departments, according to the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence. However, it was no longer working for the growing city, which began making the big switch to a full-time Fire Department in 2017. The initiative was the winner of a League of Minnesota Cities 2020 City of Excellence Award in the category of City Fire Department Staffing and Coverage.
“We had tremendous turnover,” says Eagan Fire Chief Mike Scott, who began his career as a volunteer Eagan firefighter in the 1980s. “A volunteer model is a very inexpensive model. But when you have that turnover, there’s a cost there to train people.”
[Eagan resident Bill] Pederson says the response time was not good. “The department did the best job with what they had at hand,” he says. “But this wasn’t the first time something like this happened. You take certain services for granted, like the fire department. You drive by, make the assumption they’re fully staffed, and keep going. I started thinking maybe this is something people shouldn’t take for granted.”
“With the new commerce and expanding tax base, there was no reason not to have a full-time fire department here in Eagan with the new demands put on the community,” Pederson says. “The old model just wasn’t adequate anymore.”
In 2017, Scott hired the Californiabased Citygate Associates to study the Fire Department and its model and produce a comprehensive report. Two consultants flew to Eagan and spent time surveying the community with the city’s fire marshal. They looked at community risk and interviewed residents, including Pederson, plus a selection of the department’s firefighters.
“With a third of the city commercial and our high rises, they said, ‘you have a lot of risk,’” Scott says. Ultimately, the report confirmed the need for a full-time firefighting staff in Eagan.
Now, the department has 36 full-time firefighters (who are also emergency medical technicians, or EMTs) working 24-hour shifts. Half are former Eagan volunteer firefighters. The department also currently has 19 part-time firefighters who are former volunteers. At any given time, 12 full-time firefighters are on duty and up to two part-time firefighters work evenings and weekends.
With the new model in place, response time — measured from the time of the 911 call to a fire engine arriving on scene — dropped from 14 minutes down to seven. Scott and his team also have the resources to inspect the city’s commercial buildings, which wasn’t possible before.
The department can now also send firefighters with EMT training to respond to 911 calls, along with private ambulances. In the past, police officers with only basic first aid training responded to 911 calls with ambulances.
“We can get there quicker than the ambulance most of the time,” says Scott. “There are numerous examples of life-saving events because of the quick response of our new EMT firefighters. We’ve also helped free up police officers so they can focus on police-related calls. They’re extremely happy.”