Fire departments experiment with new schedules

9:36 AM, Oct 12, 2013   |    comments
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COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. - As rural and suburban fire department struggle to attract new recruits, some creative staffing solutions are emerging.

A "duty crew" model is one that's been adopted by several Minnesota fire departments, including Cottage Grove.

Fire Chief Rick Redenius says duty crew staffing has helped his paid-on-call firefighters relieve some of the pressure they often feel at home. "They can attend their activities, they can be coaches and stuff and still be part of the fire department because they know almost a set schedule of them responding."

Under duty crew staffing in Cottage Grove, five firefighters remain at the fire station during the day. Those firefighters respond to small fires, meaning fewer pages for the rest of the department, which only responds to large fires. Three duty call firefighters remain at the station at night.

"Car fires, trash can fires, smoke, smell gas leak, all that's the duty crews, so we're saving money by not calling everyone in on every call," said Redenius

Cottage Grove firefighters are required to be available for a minimum of 60 hours of duty crew service each month, though many are scheduled for less.

Fire departments have struggled in recent years to recruit volunteer and paid-on-call firefighters. Mike Colestock, an associate dean at Hennepin Technical College, says the departures of aging baby boomers will likely make the situation worse. "Paid-on- call fire departments rely on the idea that people are going to drop what they're doing and come and respond and we just have a different population today; it's much more difficult to pull that off," he said.

Both Colestock and Redenius spent Friday morning with third graders at Grey Cloud Elementary School in Cottage Grove. The men said community outreach plays another important role in recruiting new fire fighters.

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