MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It is a typical day at Elk River’s Fire Station No. 2, where safety is obviously job one.

Fire Lieutenant Mark Lees instructs a group of local women on the proper installation and use of child safety seats. When the course is concluded, these women will be certified to conduct child seat safety checks throughout the community.

It seems being safety conscious is just the way things are here in Elk River.

“Our roots in the city and area go back to fore prevention way back into the early 1900s,” said Deputy Chief Aaron Surratt.

Surratt and newly-appointed Chief Mark Dickinson tell the story of how a devastating fire destroyed half the town back in 1898.

“And when they were rebuilding the town, they actually ran a lot of the mines out of block because they wanted to build the town non-combustible,” Surratt said.

And in addition, they utilized a rather new water pumping technology which was arguably the first of its kind in Minnesota.

elk river fire department best of minnesota 2 WCCO Viewers’ Choice For Best Fire Department In Minnesota

(credit: CBS)

“The hydraulic ram was installed in the Houlton Building in hopes for fire protection out of the river, and then later they figured out that they could flush a toilet,” Dickinson said.

Fire prevention before flush toilets? Now that’s safety conscious! And since 1881, safety has been more or less the doctrine of the Elk River Fire Department.

Through thick and thin, Captain Jeff Smith, Assistant Chief Cliff Anderson and Ambulance Coordinator Steve Dittbenner represent 104 years of service to the city of Elk River — and they have seen a lot of change.

“I came out of college with an advanced first aid degree. I got made ambulance coordinator the next month,” Dittbenner said. That was in 1978. Drove around in a 1968 Oldsmobile Delta, the ‘Ghostbusters’ car [laughs]!”

Elk River now has its own fire academy, requiring 240 hours of training, and for good reason.

“We do everything. It’s not just fighting fires,” Dickinson said. “We do rope rescue, water rescue, confined space. Every firefighter is an EMT.”

“It’s a big time commitment, which I think builds the comradery,” Surratt said.

And if you said that this department was one big family, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. They have multiple families with multiple generations in the department.

Yet one may ask: What’s the payoff? Perhaps newly-appointed Chief Dickinson puts it best.

“Every day you get to make a difference, and when you do, you go home with that tremendous feeling. And when it’s somebody in your community, there’s nothing better than that,” Dickinson said.

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