Area fire chiefs facing staff shortages look to fill out their ranks

Fighting fires can be a dangerous job on the front lines as firefighters race to help others in their time of need.

More and more, it seems people are saying no when asked to step up and serve their community in the many paid-on call and volunteer fire departments across Minnesota.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult because nationally, volunteerism is down and a lot of people moving in are busy with lives and kids. Trying to find people to do that is more difficult,” said Don Johnson, the Chanhassen Fire Chief.

Johnson told Fox 9 his department is running a couple people short of its allotted 45 fire fighters and he’s struggling to keep the community’s west station fully staffed.

This year, he sent out a personalized note with city water bills hoping to beef up Chanhassen’s firefighter ranks.

“I filled it with a letter asking them to come be a part of the team that I call the hero club,” Johnson said. “We do good work.”

“It’s everything,” said George Esbensen, the Eden Prairie Fire Chief. “Firefighter is almost a misnomer, but it’s a very tradition rich term.”

Just over Chanhassen’s border in Eden Prairie, the need isn’t quite as urgent for Esbensen, but with the baby boomer generation retiring and lifestyles changing, Esbensen isn’t easing off his recruitment efforts.

This week, nearly every single-family home received a post card appealing to the heart of residents to serve on the front. It detailed the available benefits on the back.

They also addressed the mailers to the woman of the household first, a concerted effort to diversify the ranks.

“We want to have our department look more like the community we serve,” Esbensen said.