Brooklyn Park Plans Shift to Full-time Fire Department
A significant change is now planned for the Brooklyn Park Fire Department. Brooklyn Park’s fire chief wants to put the city on the path toward a full-time department. The city currently has both full-time and paid-on-call firefighters.
“Going forward what my vision is, we’re becoming a career-oriented fire department with full-time staff that are able to answer the call 24 hours a day, seven days a week at our fire stations that exist,” said Chief John Cunningham.
The change has been studied and thought about over the last several months. The city paid Fitch & Associates $40,000 to provide a third-party review of the department. Some of the challenges, according to the report, was an “insufficient budget to meet all service demands.” Another challenge, the report says, is the “diminishing participation from the paid on-call staff.”
Plan Eliminates Paid-on-call Staffing
Under Cunningham’s recommended plan, the city would eliminate the city’s paid-on-call firefighters. Brooklyn Park currently has 21 firefighters who are paid-on-call (POC). It would provide savings of $741,302. To make up for the elimination of POCs, the city would add nine full-time firefighters, at a total cost of $1.1 million. A federal SAFER grant of $402,950 would help make up the difference. Cunningham says the challenge of recruiting paid-on-call firefighters was a factor in the decision. He admits the change won’t be easy, but calls it “an exciting opportunity for Brooklyn Park.”
Cunningham also believes the change not only will help with service but also improve diversity within the department.
“I think one of the opportunities that exist for us is bringing down some of the natural barriers that might exist for people to explore the opportunity to become a firefighter. Our traditional recruitment model has reflected around hiring people that already have knowledge, skills, training and abilities of being in the fire service,” said Cunningham.
Cunningham says the plan will be gradual. It will take 18 months to implement. It will also mean fully staffing the city’s East Station, which right now is unmanned. Once the plan is fully implemented, all four of the city’s stations would be staffed 24/7 with at least two firefighters each. The city would have a minimum of eight full-time firefighters per shift.
The chief’s recommendation includes the creation of a second deputy chief who would focus on training and recruitment, as well as the creation of a part-time pilot program. Cunningham also wants to start an in-house fire training academy, which he believes will help with recruitment and diversity.
City Council Response
The Brooklyn Park City Council digested the plan Tuesday night. Most city council members supported the chief’s recommendation. But with any significant change, there are questions.
One council member believes the number of full-time firefighters falls short.
“To me the numbers we’re asking for right now are low,” said Brooklyn Park City Council member Terry Parks, a former firefighter. “Eventually we’re going to have to build it up. And we’re talking about cutting the budget, but yet, if we lose a firefighter, if we lose a life at all, you can’t put a price on it. So I’m okay with cutting budgets, but at the fire department I think it needs to be built up.”
Another believes the changes could lead to second-rate service.
“I’m going to go back to the EMT side here, We can go back and say, ‘well you need to be an EMT here,’ but our surrounding cities are not requiring firefighters to be EMTs. Again, a barrier to employment in our city of Brooklyn Park. But yet when we’re all tied up, we’re going to give someone second-rate service because another city is going to respond to them,” said Brooklyn Park City Council member Mark Mata, a longtime paid-on-call firefighter.
Cunningham is confident his plan will provide first-rate service.
“As a fire chief, my number one concern is the safety of our people and making sure that everyone goes home at the end of their shift. In doing so, that also puts our community first,” said Cunningham. “Change can be hard at times, but when we focus on the community and put the community first and meeting their needs, that’s of utmost importance.”