The Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View Fire Department will assist the city of Spring Lake Park and others with fire inspections until at least October.
Awarded a two-year Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant in 2012, the fire department is able to employ four full-time firefighters to ensure that if there is an emergency during the day, adequate numbers will respond, as many volunteer firefighters work during the day.
The department averages two calls per week, according to Chief Nyle Zikmund, so the four full-time employees have some down time. Since October 2012, they have been filling that time performing maintenance at the four fire stations – painting, relandscaping, deep cleaning and more, Zikmund said.
Now that the stations are in good shape, Zikmund proposed some of them assist Blaine, Mounds View and Spring Lake Park in administering fire inspections.
Three of the employees are certified fire inspectors.
For more than two months, Tom Stepaniak has served as the temporary housing and code official in Mounds View, as he was also qualified to step into that role. Stepaniak and Mike Mattson will primarily work in Spring Lake Park in the coming months, while Matt Prebil continues to help out in Blaine.
Spring Lake Park officials met with the department in mid-December to iron out the details of this arrangement.
Stepaniak and Mattson will report weekly to Barry Brainard, Spring Lake Park’s building official, code enforcement director and fire marshal, for instruction.
Brainard could not be reached for comment.
The plan is to work from north to south between University and Central avenues, then north to south between Central Avenue and Spring Lake Road, as time permits.
Most structures require a fire inspection every three years, but “high hazards” should be seen annually. Apartment complexes, establishments that serve alcohol and places of worship are three examples of buildings likely to warrant annual inspections. There are 47 high hazards in Spring Lake Park, according to Zikmund.
Spring Lake Park tried to operate on this timetable in the past.
“We strived for [annual inspections], but we weren’t as diligent as we otherwise should have been just due to staffing levels,” City Administrator Dan Buchholtz said.
The city eliminated a half-time code enforcement position last year.
“That’s why this partnership really was attractive to us because then we could really get back on track with these fire inspections,” Buchholtz said.
Another partnership perk: It’s no cost to the cities.
Fire response will still be the firefighters’ primary responsibility, so if a call comes in when they are performing inspections, they will leave and reschedule later.
“Most business owners, we assume, will understand,” Zikmund said.
SBM will need to reapply for the SAFER grant in May or June to continue employing four full-time firefighters into 2015 and 2016.
There is no guarantee staff will be available to continue helping past the grant’s expiration in October, but Zikmund has a good feeling. “I’m pretty optimistic that we’ll get an opportunity to rehire,” he said.
If and when the grant is renewed, SBM will continue to furnish services to the cities.
“We’ve got the staff,” Zikmund said. “We might as well get them out there.”
Olivia Koester is at [email protected]