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Brainerd moves toward all on-call fire department, following trend across MN

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Brainerd City Council voted unanimously to eliminate its full-time firefighters, replacing them with paid on-call staff.

The city council voted 7-0 Monday night to move to an on-call fire department after three months of restructuring discussions in order to cut costs and address equipment needs, the Brainerd Dispatch reports.

The city's fire department has five full full-time firefighters who staff the fire station 24/7, and 38 paid on-call positions, KARE 11 said. Under the new plan, the full-timers will be replaced by a larger force of on-call part-timers, the Star Tribune reported.

Brainerd City Council officials said the decision was difficult, but they ultimately supported this move because they believe response time won't suffer, and the extra funds will allow for the department to buy newer and much-needed equipment, the Brainerd Dispatch says.

Eliminating the full-time firefighters could save the city more than $250,000 in the first year, with savings increasing every year after that, reports note.

The move to an all on-call fire department is nothing new – almost all of the 781 fire departments in Minnesota have paid on-call departments, the Brainerd Dispatch notes.

Minnesota has the second-highest percentage of volunteer and mostly volunteer fire departments in the nation at 97.3 percent, a 2014 report to the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association says, which found some volunteer departments across the state are struggling to find firefighters.

Ahead of the Brainerd vote, the Minnesota Professional Firefighters union, as well as Gov. Mark Dayton, expressed concerns over the safety of Brainerd residents, the Star Tribune reported.

The union said moving to an all on-call department could double or triple response times because firefighters would have to travel to the station to get their equipment before heading to the scene of the fire, KEYC reported, but city officials disagree.

In 2014, the Brainerd Fire Department responded to 508 emergency calls, the agency's website says. The department serves over 35,000 residents.

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