The Eagan City Council extinguished a long-standing debate Monday night, unanimously agreeing that the city needs to hire a full-time chief for its volunteer fire department.
The action by Mayor Pat Geagan and the four council members signaled an end to the decades of volunteer leadership at the ever expanding, on-call fire department.
"Thanks for all the volunteering, but I think it's time we hired someone," Council Member Peggy Carlson told current Chief Bob Kriha.
Kriha, a 19-year fire department veteran, attended the council's workshop with volunteer firefighter Dirk Bjornson, co-chairman of a department committee that has studied the issue for nearly two years.
Kriha and Bjornson backed by the rank-and-file members of the city's department believe the time has come to pay someone full time to administer the 150-person department and its $1.26 million budget.
In addition to acknowledging the need for a full-time chief, the council agreed that the department's bylaws should be replaced with standard operating procedures to bring it in line with the rest of the city's departments.
That process and the hiring of a chief is expected to take six months to one year, officials said.
"Now, we formally have adopted what we've been talking about and agreeing to do for a while now," Geagan said. "And the department needed to know where we were at as a council. This was a real positive step."
Eagan is one of only a few metro-area cities that lacks a full-time fire chief.
But like many municipalities, the city relies on part-time, volunteer firefighters. Others, like Coon Rapids, Woodbury and Plymouth, have a hybrid of career professionals and paid on-call firefighters, while some cities do not use a volunteer system at all.
Hiring a full-time chief does not mean the entire Eagan Fire Department would transition to full time, which is a far costlier proposition, officials said.
The volunteer firefighters in Eagan receive $10 per call, are vested in a pension plan after five years of service and are eligible for retirement benefits after 20 years. Kriha who has said he would like the full-time post receives a stipend of $900 per month.
The city's 2006 budget proposal currently includes a suggested salary of $84,760 for the position.
Meggen Lindsay can be reached at 651-228-5260.
Distributed by the Associated Press