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By the end of next year, Nowthen will have an independent department for handling fires and other emergencies.

Called the All Hazards Emergency Response Team, the department will replace the current partnership with Ramsey for fire protection.

Fire services have been provided in Nowthen through a joint powers agreement with Ramsey since 2007. Under that agreement Ramsey provided firefighters who operate out of a station owned by Nowthen.

During a Sept. 16 meeting Nowthen Mayor Jeff Pilon described the agreement with Ramsey as a hybrid between a normal joint powers agreement and contracting services. Under most joint powers agreements the facilities and equipment are mutually owned, but Nowthen owns its fire station and equipment. Ramsey provided the employees, according to Pilon.

The emergency response department will function like a fire department. The name is intended to help keep leadership aware of the variety of hazards that exist in Nowthen, such as propane gas facilities, pipelines and high speed roads.

“What we’re doing is trying to focus on how that relates to our emergency planning, and integrate the fire department with our emergency management structure here,” Pilon said.

In July of 2019 Ramsey officials on the Fire Board, which governs the joint powers agreement, raised concerns over the administrative costs Ramsey was racking up. The city asked for an increase of the share paid by Nowthen.

Ramsey’s growth also played a factor. At the size Ramsey is now, the city requires its department’s full attention, according to Ramsey City Administrator Kurt Ulrich.

The two Ramsey stations are considered enough to cover the city, without the additional station in Nowthen, according to Ulrich.

In December of 2019 Ramsey formally submitted its intent to leave the joint powers agreement – a two-year process.

COVID-19 threw a wrench into the works, particularly when it comes to meeting with legislators. Nowthen needed legislative efforts to address the fire department’s relief association, which oversees firefighters’ pensions. It was part of what Pilon described as an “11th-hour deal” before the pandemic shut down the Legislature.

Nowthen has until the end of 2021 to get the department up and running, because that is when the joint powers agreement will end. Pilon said he is confident Nowthen will have its department up and running before then.

“It will be a seamless transition,” Pilon said. “Most residents won’t even know it, other than they may notice a different logo on the same trucks that are coming to the fire.”

Nowthen had three options for fire protection: contract with another fire department, form a joint powers agreement with a different neighboring community or set up an independent team.

To help weigh options, Nowthen worked with Capstone Public Sector Solutions, a company that provides policy analysis and training to organizations. It provided a proposal April 2.

Capstone met with representatives of Elk River, Oak Grove, St. Francis and Ramsey to discuss collaborative emergency response services.

While a few of the cities expressed interest in working together, no collaborative agreements were made. So Nowthen is moving to set up its own department.

The city is currently looking for someone to take over leadership of the department. Details on exactly how the department will function are expected in the future, once leadership is in place. Interested parties can contact the city at 763-441-1347.

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