Scandia turns out for fire department

COM_fire ball corsageOn display right outside the front door of the community center—you couldn’t miss it as you walked in—was the $11,425 Polaris Ranger 6X6 Utility Terrain Vehicle (UTV) on its $2,000 trailer.

The Scandia Fire Department was able to buy the UTV last summer without tax dollars thanks to community support, including tickets purchased for the annual Firefighters’ Ball.

The Scandia/Marine Lions helped pay for the UTV with funds from their chicken dinner last April, and they used Lions gambling profits to donate the trailer.

To be ready for off-road rescue operations and grass fires, the UTV needs a Stokes basket: a stretcher used in confined spaces, on slopes or in wooded terrain. The injured person is strapped into the basket, immobilized by a back board and cervical collar.

The UTV also needs emergency lighting.

Money raised at this year’s ball, held Saturday, Feb. 23, will help with those needs.

The band Stimulus Package has been together for 10 years with the same four guys, but were formerly known as Ear Candy. Drummer Mikey Fust, a 27-year member of the Minneapolis fire department, said while the band hasn’t changed, the technology has: An iPad replaced the sound board, and the sound man now walks the crowd. Between songs, musicians with in-ear monitors call the laptop on their iPhones to make adjustments.

The band Stimulus Package has been together for 10 years with the same four guys, but were formerly known as Ear Candy. Drummer Mikey Fust, a 27-year member of the Minneapolis fire department, said while the band hasn’t changed, the technology has: An iPad replaced the sound board, and the sound man now walks the crowd. Between songs, musicians with in-ear monitors call the laptop on their iPhones to make adjustments.

The annual fire ball serves several purposes: In a relaxed, non-emergency setting, residents meet their neighbors who serve as volunteer firefighters, a live band provides entertainment, and people show their support for the department.

The city budgets about $300,000 each year for the fire department, about the same amount it spends on road repair. Most of the money comes from property taxes, with some from a service contract with May Township.

Fire Chief Jim Finnegan likes to keep the fire department at 30 members, but current staffing is about 25, with nine eligible to retire. “We’re an aging department,” the chief said.

Last year the department recruited six young men as probationary firefighters, and they hope to add six more new members this year. At the Feb. 19 meeting the city council approved advertising for recruits.

Those who pass the medical and drug tests will begin training next summer, paid for by the city. Fire fighters who respond to an incident are paid for the time they are on call. The city also contributes to a pension fund administered by the state.

There are fires every month in Scandia, including a few big ones that bring in fire departments from surrounding cities for mutual aid assistance.

But most of the calls are medical in nature. In 2012, a typical month had between 10 and 20 calls for fire department service. Less than half were fires. (An overheating electrical outlet is counted as a fire, as is a car accident with no injuries.)

So the crew is trained in both fire-fighting and emergency medical procedures. The dive team also has special training in water rescues.

Lakeview Ambulance Service is licensed to the Scandia service area and has an Advanced Life Support ambulance based at the Scandia Fire Station. At the Firefighters’ Ball on Feb. 23, the ambulance was also parked in front of the community center for guests to see.

The fire department works closely with Washington County, which provides 911 call service. This spring the county will switch to a new computer-aided dispatch system. For this Scandia has already purchased two tablet computers which are mounted on the trucks, waiting for software.

The fire department holds training sessions in Scandia, and invites other departments to participate, as when the department burns an old house for training purposes. School bus extrication classes held at the Scandia fire hall last year were attended by Forest Lake firefighters.

Community education is also offered. A Skywarn class to train storm spotters for the National Weather Service will be at 6 p.m. on Mar. 25 at the fire hall. In May the fire department will host geriatric surgeons from St. Paul’s Regions Hospital at the Elim Church not-just-for-seniors lunch, and a Regions car seat class will be held at the fire hall in September.

The fire department also provides twice-monthly work outings for prisoners through the Washington County Jail Sentence to Serve program.

The fire department will get a new fire engine this year to replace an aging vehicle. The department plans to meet with the council at the March 12 work session to discuss details.

Chief Finnegan ended the ball by thanking the community for supporting the fire department, and thanking the men and women who serve as fire fighters.

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