MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The trial of the former police officer accused of murdering George Floyd starts in two weeks.

Derek Chauvin’s arrest came during days of unrest and cries for justice expressed in protests, riots and more than 130 fires in Minneapolis alone. Since then, the city has hired a new leader for its fire department.

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In Bryan Tyner’s first sit-down interview as chief, he opened up to WCCO’s Christiane Cordero about what happened last summer, and how it’s a lesson going into the trials.

Tyner was one of the millions of people who watched Minneapolis burn last summer. He started the top job in December. He’s worked for the department for 26 years.

“Our biggest problem was being able to get in and out of these scenes safely,” Tyner said.

In civil unrest, the fire department groups rigs to operate as a unit. Everyone in, everyone out — together. That includes a police officer or a National Guard member for security. But in many instances those first few days, law enforcement didn’t arrive until morning.

“Having bottles thrown at us, having rocks and other items thrown at us. People were breaking the windows out of the rigs,” Tyner said.

He said he was surprised at how much anger was directed at firefighters, in particular.

“I think it was just a sign of the times if you will. As people in uniform, we represented the city. We represented authority,” he said.

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The risk of physical harm was under control within days. The mental and emotional toll had only begun. Minneapolis Fire just struck a deal with its healthcare provider to cover 20 therapy visits per year. Firefighters also have a counselor available to talk 24/7, encouraged and confidential.

Some have made their situations public with PTSD claims, though Tyner said the number is lower than you might expect.

“I believe we’ve maybe had four, no more than five people who have actually been treated for PTSD,” he said. “Sometimes it means it’s underreported. It probably is underreported.”

Tyner is preparing for whatever comes next month. That includes working with the National Guard, plus other police and fire departments, communicating better than they did last summer so firefighters can do their jobs, and banding together to keep everyone safe.

Hindsight from 2020, allowing the luxury of foresight for 2021.

“We spent a lot of time talking about things that we could’ve done better, things we did well,” he said. “We should have a pretty good idea as to when that verdict is going to be announced and so we will have the opportunity to have resources in place in case civil unrest breaks out.”

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Tyner will share his vision of what the department will look like beyond the trial on WCCO This Morning Wednesday.

Christiane Cordero