As the city’s population continues to grow, the Woodbury Fire Department is always looking at ways to improve its service.
On June 30, the department began a pilot program that has paid-on-call firefighters at one of its four station from 6:30-11 p.m., said Woodbury Fire Cmdr. John Wallgren.
“Before, they would just respond from home,” he said. “We're a busy city from 5 a.m. to 11 at night.”
As Woodbury grows, “we have to massage our model of delivery,” Wallgren said.
The pilot program is set to run for six months; it rotates among the city’s fire stations.
“Everybody’s been pretty pleased with it so far,” Wallgren said.
A growing number of east metro fire departments have had issues with staffing, according to a Star Tribune story, including Stillwater and Cottage Grove.
In Woodbury, “Generally speaking, we’re in very good shape,” Wallgren said.
Still, he understands the problems departments face with retaining paid-on-call firefighters. The Woodbury department historically loses 10 percent each year, whether it’s to retirement, people moving, or those who get different jobs and continue as firefighters.
Part of the challenge lies with the fact that paid-on-call firefighters in Woodbury must live within a four-minute drive of a fire station, disqualifying many potential candidates, Wallgren said.
The Woodbury City Council last week approved the hiring of seven new paid-on-call firefighters, but more than 20 were interviewed, and many simply lived too far away from a station to be considered. (The new firefighters will begin training Aug. 26.)
There have been previous discussion about adding another fire station, Wallgren said, but the Public Safety Department can get to 95 percent of residents within its goal times: four minutes for a paramedic, nine minutes for a five-person crew, and 11 minutes for an ambulance.
Those times are strengthened in part by the city’s cross-training programs: police who are also firefighters, for example.
“The staff is what makes our department elite,” Wallgren said. “And the dedication of our staff, the paid-on-call guys—everybody’s willing to go the extra mile. That’s how we make it work.”
The new paid-on-call firefighter/EMTs are Robert Burton, Ryan Malcolm, Travis Ottum, Richard Anderson, Kelly Ausen, Shane Novotny and Andrew Rudisell.
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