Lake Elmo City Council shuts down the proposal to close a fire hall

Trains blocking roads, possible increased response times and a growing population all played a role in the Lake Elmo City Council’s decision last week to keep the city’s two fire halls open, at least for now.

City staff and the fire department had proposed replacing the suburb’s two aging fire stations with one new, high-tech building. 

But at the Wednesday, March 2, council meeting, the members were deadlocked, 2-2. Council members Anne Smith and Julie Fliflet voted against the proposal, while Mayor Mike Pearson and member Justin Bloyer favored it. Council member Jill Lundgren was absent for the vote.

“I am not yet convinced that is the best thing for our community. I fully support continued discussions on the topic and would need a lot more information in order to make the decision,” Fliflet said.

She is concerned that the railroad line bisecting Lake Elmo could potentially cause problems if the city chooses to operate with just one fire hall.

Smith added, “In the last 11 years since I’ve been on the council there have been two fire studies. Both studies said we need two smaller stations, one in the north and one in the south.” 

According to Smith, the studies not only determined that there should be two fire stations, they even pinpointed the two best locations — near Keats Avenue between Tenth Street North and Interstate 94, and near the intersection of Keats Avenue North and 47th Street.

Smith added that Lake Elmo has some unique circumstances because the Lake Elmo Park Reserve limits access through the area and the railroad tracks run east to west across the middle of the city.

“That study was based on current conditions and paid on-call staffing [of the fire department]. Since then staffing has become more of a concern looking forward,” said Chief Greg Malmquist.

He explained that as part of the single-station model the plan was to have paid firefighters always in that station. 

Because the firefighters wouldn’t have to drive from their homes to the station, they would have better response times, Malmquist predicted.

Earlier this year, the Lake Elmo public safety committee determined that the two fire halls were inadequate and the buildings were in need of repairs. By closing one station, the committee reported the fire department would be able to eliminate redundancies and lessen the need for replacing outmoded equipment. 

Malmquist said some of those redundancies include the maintenance of two buildings and two fire engines. If the city went to a single station model, it would be able to eliminate one building and at least one fire engine. Depending on the circumstances, the fire department might be able to eliminate as many as three vehicles from its fleet.

The proposal to build a new fire hall could be reintroduced at a later meeting when all five council members are present.

 

Aundrea Kinney can be reached at review@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7822.

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