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Firefighters need new recruits

Wanted: a few good men and women. Must be willing to run into the occasional burning house or save a life or two.

It might not be the ideal want ad, but it takes a special kind of person to become a member of the Farmington Fire Department. And with nine current openings, local fire officials are hoping there are a few good candidates out there.

The department has lost some long-term firefighters in recent months. Most of the men who have left since the beginning of the year have more than 20 or even 30 years with FFD. Some carry more than one job and find the time commitment to be too much. Some have health issues they want to attend to. And some, well, they've been there, they've done that and now they are ready to step aside and let a new generation come in.

Fire chief Tim Pietsch, who has been with the department for 27 years himself, said it was bound to happen sooner or later. And it will probably happen again in another 20-some years, when this generation of firefighters decide it is time to retire and let the next generation come in.

"We've been around here for 125 years, and we'll be here a lot longer," Pietsch said. "We want to make that transition easier and get ready for it. In another 20 years, they'll be in the same situation."

Some of the men who have retired in this year were officers. Losing that leadership will mean transition down the line, as many of the younger members who have joined in recent years start to train for the future.

"We're actually looking to create a road map system for the next generation," Pietsch said. "For us to be ready for the future, we need to start planning. I'm trying to get them ready for the next generation of new members. We also need the present officers to help get them ready."

What it takes

The Farmington Fire Department is accepting applications to fill those nine vacancies. But filling out an application is just one of the steps when it comes to making the commitment to become a firefighter.

Mostly, Pietsch said, potential firefighters must understand that the job is not on a set schedule -- that fire calls come at all times, day and night. They are also required to put in a certain number of hours doing training drills, as well as community service projects. For some members, that time commitment is a big hurdle to overcome.

"It's a major commitment," Pietsch said. "You don't know when or where that pager's going to go off or how long you'll be gone. It's really kind of a lot to take on."

In order to be considered, an applicant must be able to respond to calls within eight minutes, said fire marshal John Powers. The applicant must be 18 years of age, have a valid Minnesota driver's license and be able to pass a physical agility test.

Once the application is reviewed, potential firefighters have to go through an oral interview before the review board. Then, they must complete a general written knowledge exam. Candidates receive points for each of those steps. Those points are added to those given for the physical agility portion.

Candidates are invited to an open house prior to taking the written exam. That open house sometimes turns away potential volunteers, Powers aid.

"At the open house, we tell them, this is what we do, this is what the training is, this is what the time commitment is. That's for the benefit of the volunteers. Sometimes they say they didn't understand the time commitment that they needed to provide to the fire department and they realize it would be a bad fit," he said.

The final piece, Powers said, is a background investigation. All firefighter candidates must pass a criminal background check before they can be considered.

"It's important that the integrity of our members is impeccable, because they have to go into people's homes," Powers said.

Firefighters are paid an hourly wage for calls and training. They are also eligible for retirement pensions after 10 years of service, and full retirement benefits after 20 years.

Applications are available at Farmington City Hall, or can be downloaded from the city's web site,