Having the Brainerd Fire Department become a fire service district is in the hands of the Brainerd City Council.
The Fire Advisory Board met Thursday to discuss whether they should continue to explore the options on being a fire service district.
The city council in August gave the fire department approval to form a committee to look into becoming a fire service district.
A fire service district would result in having the fire department enter into a joint powers agreement with the contracted areas that the fire department already covers, to form its own entity where firefighters would work together in providing more efficient fire protection, rescue and medical services.
If the fire department would enter into a joint powers agreement, it would not be part of the city but rather it would have its own governing board. The board would be run by people who serve as residents covered in the fire district, elected officials or appointed officials.
Brainerd City Administrator Theresa Goble said members of the Fire Advisory Board present at the meeting were both in favor of continuing to study the concept of being a fire service district and others had some concerns.
Goble said the Brainerd Lakes Chamber council expressed their concern with the fire service district. Goble said they did not want to create another governing body.
Baxter mayor Darrel Olson and administrator Gordon Heitke, who attended the meeting, said they already have a fire service district, in a way, and have many concerns with a fire service district. They said they would need more information about it before moving forward with it.
“We left (a previous) meeting not being compelled for a district,” Heitke said. “... It’s just another governing body and a taxing entity.”
Goble said Baxter’s fire service is already in the fund levy and it has its own rate. However, Goble said she did not know if it would be to Baxter’s advantage to have a fire service district or not.
Bill Kronstedt of Maple Grove Township said as far as he is concerned he is in favor of looking into having a fire service district. He said it is a good step forward and more time is needed to look at all the pros and cons.
Becky Eckelman of St. Mathias Township, said she would like to see more research on a fire service district.
“I’d like to know how it would affect our residents,” Eckelman said as well as how the township’s insurance rates would change. Eckelman also said it would help rural areas to have a fire station in St. Mathias.
Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek said there are a lot of unknowns on fire service districts and the only way to know the facts is to do a study.
“Is this something our fire board wants to do?” said Stunek. “Maybe there is a better way to do business. If we do a study we can answer some of these unknowns. I don’t have all the answers.”
Mark Turner, full-time equipment operator with the Brainerd Fire Department and president of the International Association of Fire Fighters union, said: “Every two weeks it seems we see a district pop up and they are proven to work. As far as a study goes, there are numerous types of studies. It depends on how much you want to go into it. There are a lot of details, like inspections and liability ... Bemidji is moving forward with this in 2017.”
Brainerd Fire Department provides full fire service protection to contracted areas since 1994 and include: Baxter, East Gull Lake, Unorganized Territory and the townships of Crow Wing, Fort Ripley, Long Lake, Maple Grove, Nokay Lake, Oak Lawn and St. Mathias.
East Gull Lake Mayor Dave Kavanaugh said he doesn’t think the East Gull Lake City Council or its residents would mind paying more for a fire hall.
The Brainerd City Council will vote on the concept at its Nov. 4 meeting.
In other business, the advisory board agreed that they wanted to review its contract language and have more communications between the city and all the entities.