EMT certification still mandatory
The city of Scandia uses a volunteer fire department, pays for its training and pays for the time it spends responding to calls. The city does not require firefighters to report to a minimum number of calls.
That will change. At the Jan. 8 work session, the Scandia City Council decided to initiate a 20 percent response requirement.
After hearing from firefighters, the council backed off from a higher percentage.
At the Aug. 27 City Council meeting, the mayor asked for a new policy with a minimum call requirement of 25 percent. If there were 100 calls in a year, for example, a firefighter who did not respond to at least 25 would be subject to disciplinary action.
The council reviewed requirements of other cities, ranging from 25 percent in Farmington to 70 percent in Alexandria. Neighboring Chisago City requires attendance at 33.3 percent of the calls.
Fire Chief Mike Hinz said the department prefers a 15 percent minimum, even though exceptions are allowed for extenuating circumstances, such as calls when firefighters are away at work.
The council compromised at 20 percent. Hinz said most of the department is at or above that level, but a few are at 2 or 3 percent.
“Right now we have six under 25 percent and two under 15 percent,” Hinz said. “If we pay to train them, we want them to show up.”
The council also discussed no longer requiring emergency medical technician certification for firefighters, since Lakeview Hospital began providing emergency medical service in 2012.
Operating from the Scandia fire hall, Lake-view serves a 300-mile area, offering advanced life support service 24 hours a day.
Scandia requires that all members of the fire department be EMT-certified within two years of hire. After a discussion with Hinz, who argued to keep the policy as is, the council decided not to change the EMT requirement.
“This is a great benefit to Scandia residents,” Hinz said. “We worked for 25 years, moving towards EMT.”
Even without EMT requirements, firefighters must have first responder training (EMR), Hinz said, and the difference between EMR and EMT training is just one session.
The EMT course costs $900 plus a $150 book, versus $450 plus a $75 book for EMR. Annual recertification costs $2,300 for all 20 firefighters, he said.
Hinz said he has learned of a reimbursement program for initial EMT training costs, paid the year after training, that is funded by seat belt violation tickets.
Council members asked whether the city is losing recruits who would like to fight fires but not be EMT-certified.
“The EMT isn’t the hard part,” Training Captain Ian Skarja said. “It’s 160 hours to fulfill. The hard part is the long-term commitment: showing up for trainings, getting up at 3 a.m.”
Skarja said firefighters who are willing to make the EMT commitment will stay with the department for the long haul.
Asked if he’d rather not have to take EMT training, Skarja replied, “The more tools I have, the better I’ll be in an emergency. I want to help people.”
Because Lakeview Ambulance is not always in town (it has a required 30-minute response time), the local firefighters sometimes arrive on scene first.
Hinz also pointed out that even though Stillwater has a hospital, that fire department is working toward requiring EMT certification.
Council Member Jim Schneider said that of Lindstrom, Chisago City and Center City, only Center City requires EMT certification because of the Hazelden addiction treatment center.
Council Member Dan Lee wanted to reduce the fire department budget.
“Other towns have $100,000 less in their budget, with similar circumstances,” he said. “We’re looking for a way to get our budget down.”
With the rest of the council, he voted to follow the fire chief’s recommendation.
“But I still want to explore every place we can save money,” he said.
Council Member Sally Swanson favored continuing the higher pay for EMT firefighters while not requiring EMT certification, but said she would accept the chief’s recommendation.
Council Member Chris Ness said he understood that EMT certification is part of the dedication firefighters have toward their calling, but added, “I still think you’re going to too many calls.”