By Anne Holzman
The city of Falcon Heights has dismantled what remained of its volunteer fire department and is contracting now with the St. Paul Fire Department for fire services.
The City Council took that action at its Jan. 13 meeting, with all remaining fire department employees services terminated as of Jan. 17.
A month earlier, at a workshop meeting, Falcon Heights City Council members heard St. Paul’s proposal as well as pleas from Falcon Heights residents and employees to keep the city’s own fire department intact despite challenges and expense. But council members decided it was too expensive to maintain Falcon Heights’ own fire department.
“It would appear that the cost to maintain our fire department is about twice that of contracting with St. Paul,” council member Kay Andrews said.
“I know you can’t equate passion, loyalty and community good feeling to dollars and cents,” Andrews continued. But she added, “I also know our residents are concerned about taxes increasing and balancing other needs in the city.”
Financial considerations weren’t the only factors in play for the Fire Department’s eventual demise. Falcon Heights dismissed its fire chief, Rich Hinrichs, in March 2019, following accusations that he had used disrespectful language and created a poor work environment. The city searched unsuccessfully for a new chief.
Meanwhile, in July 2020, the city of Lauderdale dropped its fire contract with Falcon Heights and entered a contract with St. Paul, removing a source of revenue.
Falcon Heights volunteer firefighters continued to work on a per-call paid basis, with the City of Roseville providing management services during 2020. Roseville notified Falcon Heights last fall that it would not be renewing that contract, forcing Falcon Heights to find a replacement for those services.
Falcon Heights owns three fire trucks as well as uniforms, helmets and other safety equipment. According to Mayor Randy Gustafson, “In the coming weeks, the City of Falcon Heights will be addressing the various issues involved with the dissolution of the fire department including city owned equipment. Any sale or dispersal of city owned equipment will be done in accordance with applicable laws and auditing requirements.”
Anne Holzman covers Falcon Heights and Lauderdale governmental news for the Bugle.