MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) –- Several times a day, a Twin Cities fire department does not have a crew immediately ready to respond to an emergency.
The Roseville Fire Department is hoping to add more full time staff to fill that gap. but it’s going to take hundreds of thousands of dollars — and approval from council members.
During WCCO-TV’s visit on Monday afternoon, a two-man crew had just returned from a medical call. In less than five minutes, duty called again, and they were back on the road with their sirens blaring.
Had another call come in, the remaining three full-time firefighters would take off in an engine, leaving no more crews available for further calls.
“On average, we’re in a position where there’s no one available to respond to the next emergency seven times every day,” said Chief Tim O’Neill.
Back in 2006, O’Neill said the department averaged 1,000 fire related calls per year. That same year they began responding to medical calls, which increased their call volume significantly.
Fast forward to 2019, and O’Neill said they are now responding to roughly 5,000 total calls per year. Most of the calls come between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., when Roseville’s population almost triples thanks to people who work or shop in the city. The problem is that while the call volume increased, staffing levels remained the same.
The fire department has only five full-time firefighters on-duty per day. Chief O’Neill wants to raise that number to eight, which would give them a third crew for medical calls or allow them to better handle large structure fires.
“That’s my primary job is to protect the community and my firefighters,” he said. “And that’s the recommendation that we were providing to council.”
If the fire department does not have a crew immediately available to respond to a third call, they get assistance from local EMS or from a fire department in a neighboring town, like Falcon Heights. However, O’Neill said the response time from outside agencies is not nearly as fast as a fire crew within Roseville.
“There’s no question that we have to deliver on public safety,” said Mayor Dan Roe.
He shares the fire department’s concern, as do several people in the community.
The fire department did surveys at dozens of events last year. Everyone who filled one out supports funding more firefighters, even if it would cost about $1 million a year.
In order to boost daily staffing, Chief O’Neill wants to hire nine more full-time firefighters. They currently have 15 full timers and 19 part timers.
“I don’t think there’s a question of whether we do it. I think there’s a question of exactly how, and maybe whether we phase it in over time,” Roe said.
Some of the money could come from the current city budget, but Mayor Roe said it’s likely the rest of the bill would fall on taxpayers.
Chief O’Neill hopes go over the finances with the council in the coming months. If approved, new staff could start as early as next year.