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Ottertail Fire Department calls on the rise

"The last two years, our call volume has gone over 100 calls each year," Ottertail Fire Chief Adam Wedde reported at the Jan. 20 Ottertail City Council meeting. In 2010, the department received a total of 117 calls, with 130 calls the year before. "The majority of those calls are rescue calls," Wedde said.

Call information, possible equipment upgrades and grant updates were topics Wedde touched on during his presentation to the council. Fire/rescue department officers will remain the same for the upcoming year, with Wedde continuing on as fire chief.

"It was unanimously voted that the existing officers stay in position," he said.

Wedde suggested the city consider the possibility of updating some of its trucks.

"You're looking at a base price of about $150,000 on a new truck," he said.

The Ottertail Rod and Gun Club recently offered a donation to the city to start setting money aside for the eventual purchase of a new truck.

The city council acknowledged and accepted this donation of $3,000 toward the purchase of a new rescue truck and equipment. Another donation of $4,000 from the Ottertail Rod and Gun Club for mulch for the city park playground was also accepted.

Wedde told the council he's been driving around and checking out the condition of the city's fire hydrants. Snow obstruction is an issue right now, and should be taken into consideration when hydrants are installed in the summer. One thing Wedde said would be helpful is a map that features the city's infrastructure and shows the exact location of every hydrant.

The Ottertail Fire Department is actively looking for new members. The department is down to 23 people, with the target membership set at 30 people.

"We've got a few people who would like to retire right now too," Wedde said. "The only reason they're still here is because we don't have anyone to replace them."

Wedde suggested holding some type of a "Firemen Fun Day" event that would showcase for the public what the department does. The city has already taken out a newspaper ad asking for new members, which resulted in one additional member on the department.

Ice water rescue gear is another item Wedde would like to see the city purchase. He created a list of some specific gear he thought would be most useful. Council member Heather Rosenthal brought up the possibility of the city talking to the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Operation Center to see if the city could borrow some of its gear in a rescue type situation. Most of the county's dive gear is stored at the sheriff's center in Ottertail.

Mayor Myron Lueders said his main concern is with the fire personnel numbers issue. Right now, only one-third of the department is responding to calls on average. In the past, when there were 30 members on the department, Lueders said they had an average of 15 people showing up per call.

"Right now, in a department of 23 people, we have seven under the age of 50," Wedde said.

He believes the age of the fire department members could be part of the reason fewer people are responding to calls. "It's a lot easier to stay home," he admitted.

Donna Cushman with the Minnesota Benefits Association presented on some different types of insurance available to people who work for the city. Minnesota Benefits Association is an association made up of government workers. It was started in 1929 and helps provide extra benefits that cities and counties cannot afford.

The association provides benefits for state, county, municipal and township government entities. Cushman explained how someone who wouldn't qualify for the city's insurance could apply for insurance through the non-profit organization she represents.

"We also can do Medicare supplements or long-term care insurance," Cushman said.

"What I'm talking about is not something that you guys would be paying for," Cushman said to the city council members. "The cost of the premium would be entirely theirs [the person who elects to purchase insurance through MN Benefits Association.]"

Cushman provided Wedde with several copies of the insurance information to distribute to individuals working for the city's fire department. One of Cushman's main points was that the association could provide the city with a group rate, which could lower costs for individuals who might otherwise have to go out on their own and try to find affordable insurance.

Council members thanked Cushman for her presentation and said they will contact her with any additional questions.

The council accepted the city's 2011 appointments, designations and meeting dates at the January meeting. Lueders briefly highlighted some of the city's plans for the upcoming year. One of the first topics he addressed was the severe weather siren alert system the city has been contemplating purchasing. The city's old siren is still functional and Lueders said one option might be to start by purchasing an automatic generator to run the existing siren.

Council member Mike Windey suggested taking a close look at the city's entire emergency response plan. Rosenthal suggested the formation of a committee to talk to the county and other appropriate resources to see what services/equipment can be shared before the city moves forward.

City maintenance supervisor Lee Sherman expressed his support for the city looking into all opportunities to share services and help cut costs for taxpayers. Rosenthal, Windey and Wedde were named to the emergency preparedness committee. This committee will help determine what type of siren system will be most beneficial to the city of Ottertail.

In other news, June 3 and 4 are the 2011 dates for the annual Ottertail City Clean-up Days. The Board of Review meeting has been set for Tuesday, April 12 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Ottertail Community Center.