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Farmington Fire Department struggles to retain members

Finding new recruits to join the Farmington Fire Department is fairly easy. Most of the time, several apply just for one or two positions. Keeping those recruits for more than five years, though, seems to be a problem.

The Farmington Fire Department is currently running about three members shy of its full complement of 50. The department had been down by four members earlier in the year, so four new members were selected. Just after those four got on, though, two resigned. Then last week, a third member resigned.

It's a constant cycle at the fire department these days. Members come, members go. Fire chief Tim Pietsch can't blame any of them for leaving. The last three resigned because they and their families relocated. Earlier this year, two members with 20-plus years of service retired.

"It's just one of those things. Life happens," Pietsch said. "Some of these guys, they're just starting out. They have to find a place to raise their families. They have to do what's right for them. It's tough though, because you spend time and effort to get them trained and up to speed. You get them there and hope they'll stick around for 10, 20 years. Sometimes they do, but sometimes they don't."

Still, it's not an easy cycle. New recruits usually have to go through a series of certification trainings before they can really get going in the department. If they don't have any certifications coming in, a new recruit has to complete six courses over three years.

The department provides the equipment, and does much of the instruction for the new members. That makes it hard, Pietsch said, when members leave and have to be replaced, because the department has to go through all of the training all over again.

"It seems like we're always playing catch up," he said. "I don't know what the next step is."

The fire department's new member committee plans to start reaching out to residents in hopes of finding new interest. When they go around to neighborhoods at National Night Out in August, the plan is to start asking men and women if they've ever considered joining. They'll also try a similar tactic at community events, Pietsch said.

The committee reports an increased number of inquiries from potential new residents who already have some of their fire certifications.

"We're getting phone calls from prospective people. 'I'm looking for a place to live, I have these certifications, what can you offer me?' We are getting those phone calls, too. Some come in with Firefighter 1, Firefighter 2 and EMT certificates. We don't have to train them then. It's just a matter of bringing them up to speed on the policies and procedures," Pietsch said.

Candidates for the fire department must be able to respond to one of the two stations within four minutes. They go through interviews and skills tests. And that's just to get onto the department.

It takes a time commitment to be part of the fire department, Pietsch said. There are meetings and training sessions every other Monday, and members are required to attend 75 percent of those meetings. They're also required to respond to 25 percent of all of the calls this year. Next year, the call requirement increases to 30 percent, which is typical throughout Dakota County.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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