Twin Cities suburban fire departments look for ways to improve response times

May 17, 2019 06:09 PM

Fire departments across the Twin Cities are changing the way they hire, in response to growing suburbs and increasing response times.

For decades, cities like Plymouth operated on a paid, on-call staffing model: firefighters would be paged when a call came in, they’d go to the fire station and then to the scene.


“That overnight paid, on-call really wasn’t meeting our community's expectations,” said Plymouth Fire Chief, Rodger Coppa. “You don’t want to wait tens of minutes, you want to wait minutes and seconds.”

In the last six months, Plymouth has hired six full-time career firefighters to join the ranks. The boost in staff now allows one of the fire stations to be fully staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Coppa said this struggle isn’t unique to Plymouth. Other cities of similar size are struggling with how to recruit and retain on-call firefighters and how to get to calls quicker. He pointed to Eagan, which recently moved to a combination staffing model, and Minnetonka, who are looking at hiring career supervisors, along with more paid on-call firefighters

“The 50 and 60-year-old cities are finding themselves at that point right now that the old response model just doesn’t fit the need anymore,” Coppa said.

More from KSTP:

Fire departments get creative to attract potential candidates

Plymouth struggles to find firefighter staffing solution

Jimmy Sharpe, a long-time Plymouth resident, starting working in the fire service two years ago as a paid, on-call firefighter with Plymouth. Last month, he was hired on full time to help bolster the 24/7 staff.

Combination departments like Plymouth's make up only a small percentage of all the fire departments in Minnesota. Below is a breakdown of the types of fire departments across the state.

“Being able to get on that truck that much quicker to save someone’s life is gonna make a huge difference,” Sharpe said.

The changes have come with some growing pains. The first station that is now staffed overnight wasn’t built to accommodate full-time staff. The department put in makeshift bedrooms in old office space and turned a storage closet into the laundry room.

“We need to make it livable because it’s now their home for 24 hours,” Coppa said.

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Kirsten Swanson

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