Justin Sorensen rings bell at 911 ceremony.JPG

New Waconia Fire Chief Justin Sorensen rings a ceremonial bell at a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony on Sept. 11, 2021. (Patriot file photo)

There have been Sorensens at the Waconia Fire Station essentially since the structure was built, starting with long-time former fire chief Randy Sorensen and then his sons. Now, one of the sons will lead the department as the city proceeds with plans to build a new station.

As reported in October, Justin Sorensen was selected as Waconia’s new fire chief, officially taking over the role Nov. 1.

The new chief has heard of ancestors involved in fire department leadership roles even farther back than his dad. And while like a lot of other firefighter children, Sorensen spent plenty of time in the fire station as a kid, he said it wasn’t his intention to become a fire chief.

But while studying automobile engineering at Minnesota State University- Mankato, Sorensen became involved in that community’s resident firefighter program and began building the skills for an administrative fire career. Friends and acquaintances from that program also have landed fire department leadership roles in other communities, he notes.

Sorensen has served 16 years in the Waconia Fire Department in various roles including captain and the past two years as assistant chief.

The previous two fire chiefs lived outside the community. Sorensen is home-grown, and says he believes it’s important to be on location, on call, able to respond and be visible in the community.

“You can’t just fully disconnect on nights and weekends,” said Sorensen, although he adds that he is a proponent of letting other people lead and serving as a mentor so they are able to lead.

The new chief also says it’s important “to put firefighters first” as a way to build the department and serve the community.

Fire department and city leaders recently brought back the badge pinning ceremony tradition at city council meetings to recognize new firefighters who have completed their requirements. Sorensen will receive his own fire chief badge at a city council meeting in December.

The community also has a Fire Explorer’s group to introduce young people to the profession. The department recently welcomed two new firefighters from that program. Sorensen calls volunteer firefighting a “great part-time job opportunity” with solid pension benefits, a rewarding work environment, and an opportunity to help out in the community.

While many communities are struggling to retain firefighters, Sorensen notes that Waconia has added several in recent years, although he says the department could use more to reach of force of 40, especially as the community continues to grow.

The department has received a steady increase in calls, he notes, growing on average by about 50 calls a year. Call volume has already reached more than 600 this year, surpassing last year’s total.

Very few of those are fire calls. Most are fall assists and minor medical, so Sorensen said fire department structure is an important consideration for fire department leaders.

The department set up a duty officer position during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce potential exposure by enabling the on-duty officer to evaluate situations and send a more limited response to minor incidents. That has proved efficient and will continue to be employed, according to Sorensen.

Meanwhile, the fire station is 40 years old, outdated, and no longer located in the center of town as the community spreads outward. The station was expanded several years ago, but Sorensen notes the building is now in the “15th year of a 10-year fix.”

So, he and other fire department leaders will be extensively involved with city leaders in planning for a new fire station proposed for a city owned parcel at 10451 10th Street West just west of the Highway 284 intersection.

The goal, Sorensen says is to build “something to serve the community for a long time.”

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