After years of relying on volunteers, Hermantown explores hiring paid firefighters

The city is applying for a grant to fund the two full-time positions for three years.

Hermantown fire and police personnel shift through the rubble at the scene of a house fire on West Arrowhead Road in 2017. Hermantown is considering adding two full-time paid firefighters to its volunteer department.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

HERMANTOWN โ€” The city might soon add two full-time firefighters to its staff after years of being a volunteer-only fire service.

Police Chief Jim Crace said the possible move to a hybrid staff/volunteer model is due to ever-increasing calls for service not keeping up with the number of volunteers.

"Our public safety needs are just larger than what we can expect from our volunteers," Crace said. "But those needs are still smaller than having a full-time fire department. A hybrid of a couple of full-time people to lead the department to do the planning and training for the department and take calls during the day when volunteers are typically at work is kind of what we're after."

Crace was quick to praise the level of service the Hermantown Volunteer Fire Department has provided over the years.

Children aim fire hoses at a spin-able target.
Children try their hands at aiming a fire hose with the Hermantown Fire Department during Hermantown National Night Out on Aug. 2.
Teri Cadeau / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune

"This department has been around since 1951, long before the city was a city, and they've done an admirable job," Crace said. "They're very passionate folks, like most volunteers are. But we have a hard time getting people to come to work for paid jobs, much less volunteer jobs. They're a small group of people doing a ton of work that really need some backup."


Crace added that it was about "right-sizing" the department's response to situations.

Hermantown said goodbye to two of its three fire halls this week. Fire Hall No. 3, at Rose and Midway roads, and Fire Hall No. 2, at Morris Thomas and Stebner roads, were demolished to make way for two new larger fire halls that can accommodate t...

"Right now the way it's done, like most volunteer fire departments, the call is put out and whoever shows up, shows up. So it might be five or six people for something that requires two," Crace said. "We want to respond with the appropriate amount of people because otherwise that tends to burn people out."

Crace presented the proposed firefighter staff model to the City Council at an agenda meeting March 6. On Monday, he received unanimous approval from the council to apply for a Federal Emergency Management Agency SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant, which would cover three years of salaries for the two firefighting positions.

Regardless of whether the city receives the grant, Crace said they would continue to explore other funding sources for the positions.

"We'll still continue to explore the best option that works for us in order to pursue these positions," Crace said.

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Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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