Fridley Gets Creative to Recruit More Firefighters

Updated: 07/04/2013 6:31 AM By: Beth McDonough

If your home catches fire or you're in a car crash, who responds the emergency?

In Minneapolis and St. Paul and eight other cities, professional firefighters do. In the suburbs, more than likely it'll be volunteers or on-call firefighters. They're people with day jobs who help out their local fire department on the side. 

In several  communities there aren't enough of those firefighters to go around. That's why Fridley is getting creative to boost its ranks. 

The Fridley Fire Chief wanted KSTP to see and feel what firefighters do, and share it with others. That's why he met a KSTP crew at a training center. It's where crews simulate house fires, car accidents and emergencies. "We never know from one day to the next what we'll actually be doing," said Chief John Berg. 

That kind of uncertainty has been hard to overcome, making recruits even harder to come by, "The time commitment, you don't get paid a lot of money."

But with 3,000 calls a year, Fridley, needs recruits just as much as the community needs a fire department. The chief is counting on his words to reach people interested in filling the ranks as volunteers, or better yet, as paid on-call firefighters. 

It's the only option the city can afford. "It saves us about $2 million a year," according to Berg.

The State Fire Marshall tells KSTP of the 792 fire departments, only ten are staffed by full-time firefighters. The rest are a mix of full-time, paid part-time and volunteer crews. On its force, Fridley has one female firefighter. A number it's eager to increase.

Across the metro in Eden Prairie, the push to recruit women has worked. Eleven of 93 Eden Prairie firefighters are female. 

Kim Cox tells KSTP, "It's not just responding to structure fires anymore, it's car accidents, medicals, public education and fire prevention."

The Chief understands while it can be a big commitment, the payoff is even bigger, "You have the opportunity to serve your community and help people."

Applications are being accepted in August. The Fridley Fire Department will hire in the fall.  The Academy begins in January. It's 8 hours a week and paid. 

Recruits will get about a year worth of EMT and firefighter training. 

To become a firefighter in Fridley the requirements are: you have to live within six minutes of one of the three fire stations. You must be 18-years-old to apply and have a valid driver's license. The city runs a background check that includes: criminal, medical, psychological and physical. 

Once hired, on-call firefighters make anywhere from $13-$16/hour and earn a pension.