Minneapolis Fire Department faces perilous future

Cuts have left MFD below industry standards

Many firefighters see the board-ups as just another time-suck that will spread the already stretched department even thinner. One firefighter says he missed three calls while tied up doing board-ups, meaning the emergency was passed off to the next closest station.

"So they're taking our staffing away, but they're doing it in very stealth ways," says Reid Wilson, firefighters union vice president. "This whole board-up program that's coming is going to pull an entire truck company out of service for the time they're going to have to do that board-up, and we're already short truck companies."

On an unseasonably warm afternoon in October, a crew sits around a table at a Minneapolis fire station preparing lunch.

Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Thirty-two firefighter positions and a heavy-rescue rig are casualties of budget cuts
Michael Dvorak
Thirty-two firefighter positions and a heavy-rescue rig are casualties of budget cuts

They are still waiting to see how the 32 pending cuts will affect them. If the department does have to make layoffs, the least tenured will be the first to go, meaning they might not have jobs come January.

Some firefighters follow the news more closely than others, but the sentiment toward the city is pretty much the same across the table.

"I can see how [Rybak's] done a lot for the city and done a lot for our national image," says one firefighter. "But if you've been around here like with me, you see how much of a shoestring we really are."

Suddenly, an alarm rings in over the loudspeaker.

Within a matter of seconds, lunch is abandoned on the table, and the rigs are pulling out into the street on the way to a call.

Lakosky says he fears what tragic accident will have to happen before the city starts listening to the warnings of the firefighters on the front lines. Until then, he and other firefighters will continue to make due with less than what they need.

"The spin is, 'Your safety is up to you,'" says Lakosky. "Well, you know what? If the fire's rolling and they're yelling they think some kids are in there, you go. You're going to make it work. I'm not waiting for another rig or whatever; you're going to go. And that just is what it is. We aren't people that don't go." 

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