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(FILE IMAGE COURTESY OF WEST METRO FIRE PHOTOGRAPHY)

A Brooklyn Park fire engine responded to a fire June 8 at Autumn Ridge Apartments. The city plans to purchase two new fire trucks with a total cost of $1.2 million.

Brooklyn Park’s Fire Department plans to purchase two new fire engines, with a total cost of $1.2 million.

On June 22, the City Council approved the purchase of new trucks and the final dissolution of the Brooklyn Park Firefighters’ Relief Association. The association, which provided pensions to the city’s volunteer firefighters, was the last remnant of the now-defunct volunteer and paid-on-call department model, which has been replaced by a full-time duty crew model. The paid-on-call program ended Dec. 31, 2019.

The custom-built, identical new trucks are expected to be simple, durable and safe and to serve as a template for the city’s truck replacement moving forward, said Fire Chief John Cunningham. “We really took a look, a hard look at what we needed as an engine, developed the specifications looking at that, and just what we need on an engine each and every day,” he said.

While the city planned to replace a fire engine in 2019, the department formed a working group to review the engines in the fleet and create a standardized design based on the department’s needs. Two trucks scheduled for replacement at a later date have advanced rust on their frame rails and a third-party consultant told the city that while they can temporarily remain in service, the trucks would eventually need replacement.

The department maintains a fleet of five engines, one ladder truck, two light-duty rescue trucks, along with support vehicles. Three engines are staffed 24 hours per day.

The trucks are planned to be constructed by Custom Fire Apparatus, Inc., of Osceola, Wisconsin. With funds from the general and garage funds, the city plans to provide a down payment of $580,000. The remaining costs can be financed through a 10-year lease with an interest rate of 2.82% through Community Leasing Partners. The city will own the trucks outright at the end of the leasing period.

Councilmember Mark Mata, who voted against the proposal, said he felt that the city could make do with one replacement truck to be budget-conscious, given the circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic. While he motioned to amend the proposal to include only one replacement truck, his motion failed for lack of a second.

The remainder of the council supported the proposal. Councilmembers Susan Pha and Terry Parks both spoke to the importance of safety issues, and Councilmember Tonja West-Hafner said that heavy equipment of this nature is inherently expensive.

Both Mata and Parks are former Brooklyn Park firefighters.

Pension dissolution

State laws governing volunteer firefighter pension programs did not have provisions for dissolution, so special language was introduced during the legislative session to allow for the program to be fully dissolved and allow for account funds to be distributed to members.

Rep. Mike Nelson and Sen. John Hoffman, working with the city and relief association, authored bills in the 2020 legislative session to allow for the dissolution of the program, which were included in the Pensions Omnibus Bill and signed May 21 by Gov. Tim Walz.

Cunningham thanked the volunteer and full-time firefighters for their service. “I first want to acknowledge and thank the rich history in our fire department for everyone that has served as a paid-on-call or volunteer firefighter in the Brooklyn Park Fire Department with pride and honor. It should not go unnoticed or unsaid, that dedication and commitment,” he said.

“The retirement plan is terminated and the volunteer firefighters become 100 percent vested in their accounts in the retirement plan effective on December 31, 2019, or, if earlier, the date that the city terminates the employment of the last of its volunteer firefighters,” the state law reads. “For purposes of this section, the city will be considered to have terminated the employment of a volunteer firefighter even if the city hires or continues to employ the volunteer firefighter as a part-time or full-time city employee performing firefighting or other services.”

The council voted 6-1 to approve the dissolution, with Mata dissenting.

“I do want to mark the end of an era,” Mayor Jeff Lunde said. “With this we kind of move to a different era completely.”

Mata questioned if the city would be liable for legal issues related to the payout from the pensions. Jim Thompson, the city attorney, said that the relief association, which is a separate entity from the city, would be responsible for payout issues.

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