MANKATO — Finding people willing to live at a fire station and devote 10 days a month to being ready to roll whenever volunteer firefighters are needed can be a challenging task for Mankato’s Department of Public Safety.
Single men and women have been fulfilling that duty for years at the city’s Fire Station 3, where volunteers exchange their services for dorm-style housing. That living arrangement works for younger volunteers, but it loses its popularity as people get older. It’s not even an option for married volunteers.
Todd Miller, Department of Public Safety director, said the Fire Department has found a new way to entice people considering service as a volunteer firefighter. When the new Fire Station 3 is built along Augusta Drive near the residential neighborhood north of Home Depot, four townhouses will be built next to it.
Volunteers will be given the option to live in the townhouses at a reduced rent in exchange for an obligation to staff the neighboring fire station 10 to 15 nights per week. Miller said there is already interest in the townhouses, which will be owned by the city, coming from current volunteers. It’s not a new idea, but it’s not a common method for recruiting volunteers. He’s not aware of anything similar in Minnesota.
“I’m not sure where we came up with it,” Miller said. “Staffing is an issue everywhere and we’ve talked to people around the country.”
Volunteer firefighters would live in the townhouses, responding to fire calls directly from home. The fire station will be right across the street, so they won’t have to stay at the station and away from their families while they are working their overnight shifts.
Miller used Deputy Director Jeff Bengtson as an example of how the townhouses can be an asset for the city. Bengtson, who now leads the fire side of the Department of Public Safety, started his firefighting career by volunteering and living in Fire Station 3 on Pohl Road. He eventually moved out, became a full-time firefighter and started a family.