By Anne Holzman
The city of Lauderdale has negotiated a fire services agreement with the St. Paul Fire Department and has, as of July 30, stopped routing calls from within in its municipality to Falcon Heights.
Lauderdale was already receiving ambulance and emergency medical services from St. Paul.
At Lauderdale’s June 23 City Council meeting, Mayor Mary Gaasch reviewed concerns that there had been no response to several calls and said that the explanation had been that a volunteer fire department could not be expected to answer all calls.
“The needs of our citizens might be better met by a full-time professional fire department,” Gaasch said.
In an apparent reference to the firing of Falcon Heights fire chief Rich Hinrichs in early 2019, Lauderdale council member Jeff Dains said, “Things have changed in the last year and a half.” He expressed support for choosing the St. Paul fire service.
Mayor Gaasch told the Lauderdale council that she had talked with Falcon Heights leaders about the fire contract in the preceding weeks.
Asked about the expected increase in cost to go with St. Paul Fire Department service, Lauderdale City Administrator Heather Butkowski told the council she expects “a very manageable increase.”
Dains said, “I think the extra cost is well worth it for the safety of our residents.”
Despite the apparent desire to make a contract change now, Gaasch told the Lauderdale council, “I am grateful to Falcon Heights for the many years of service.”
Later, in an email to the Bugle, Butkowski said Lauderdale would continue to remit payments to Falcon Heights as agreed through 2020 but would no longer be routing calls to them. She said the increased cost for the St. Paul service, likely around $38,000, might be covered by keeping money in the 2021 general fund that is sometimes transferred to special funds for capital projects.
However, at a Falcon Heights city workshop meeting on June 3 their council members expressed frustration at what they saw as a sudden departure from a longstanding relationship and they discussed the then anticipated loss of the Lauderdale contract.
According to a statement in council workshop materials, “Lauderdale has every right to search for bids from other fire departments, but the City of Falcon Heights requested that they be notified so they could bid, which did not happen.”
In an email to the Bugle, Falcon Heights Mayor Randy Gustafson said, “We have been working hard this past year-and-a-half to rebuild our department and continue to meet the public safety needs of our community which includes Lauderdale.”
Gustafson noted that since December 2019, the Falcon Heights fire department has been receiving assistance with training and administration from Roseville and has been recruiting more firefighters. He said the department underwent an audit published in May.
Anne Holzman, a former St. Anthony Park resident, is a regular freelance contributor to the Bugle.