Fire stations of the world: Albert Lea Fire Department unveils new station with key components to keep fire fighters safe, Minnesota, US
Albert Lea recently unveiled its new fire station and it features key components fire fighters say are necessary to keep them safe from cancer. Laughter and cheer erupted as the Albert Lea Fire Department celebrated their new home in style with hydraulic scissors during a ribbon cutting ceremony in September 2020. The new Albert Lea Fire and Rescue Fire Station is situated at 417 S Newton Avenue in Albert Lea, a city in Freeborn County in southern Minnesota, US. Albert Lea has a population was 18 016 at the 2010 census and covers an area of 39,21km². The project has been in the works for more than a decade and this moment has even more meaning for Deputy Chief Jeff Laskowske. He survived testicular cancer and he along with fellow fire fighters advocated for change at the state level.
That change included a new initiative to keep fire fighters safe from cancer. “You can have the greatest building and apparatus, the greatest resources but without the people, your people are your number one resource, without them you can't go anywhere," said Deputy Chief Laskowske.
It's called the MN Fire Initiative, focusing on heart health, cancer reduction and mental wellness. Laskowske says these three key components were needed in the design of their new fire station, which was approved by the city and backed by the community. The new station has more than 26 000 square feet with new living quarters and a new fitness centre. They also acquired an additional extractor machine to wash gear as well as a sauna to help fire fighters sweat out toxins absorbed after a fire.
"Everyone was very grateful to the city, that they are willing to look out for fire fighters to give us space to do the things we need to protect fire fighters," said Laskowske.
The City of Albert Lea commissioned Brunton Architects and Engineers to design their new 25 560 square foot precast fire and rescue facility in early 2018. The project boasts 12 apparatus bays, a large 1 200 square foot training room, emergency operations centre (EOC), offices, combination hose/training tower, second floor living quarters for six full time fire fighters, fitness room, locker rooms for both full-time fire fighters and paid-on-call (POC) fire fighters, pressurised SCBA room and laundry facilities. One unique feature of this building is the LED lighting system that spreads across its exterior facade. The lights on the building will alternate colours from white to red to alert you that an apparatus is soon to be leaving the station.
For the heart health component, that has meant implementing things such as a fitness centre into the facility, where on-duty fire fighters are required to work out for an hour a day. Fire fighters can also work out there on their off days, along with the paid on-call staff.
For the mental wellness tier, that has included things like having separate living and office spaces, where the fire fighters work on reports, compared to where they sleep or fix meals.
At the City Hall location, where the department had been housed since 1968, the offices and living space were all in one area. It was often challenging for one person to be finishing up a report, while the other fire fighters were done for the day and cooking or otherwise socialising.
Laskowske and each of the officers now have their own offices, while the lieutenants share an office and then all of the other fire fighters share a separate office. With the fire fighters divided into three shifts, each fire fighter has computer access for typing reports as needed.
The new facility also has separate rooms with triple-pane glass on the windows for each of the fire fighters to sleep in, instead of having all of the beds in one large room at the old station. Laskowske said this allows the fire fighters to get better sleep in the stretches that they are able to get uninterrupted sleep.
For the cancer reduction component, the station is divided into hot, warm and cold zones with hot zones being where gear can be that has just been in a fire. The gear is put through an extractor right at the edge of the apparatus bay. Warm zones are where cleaned gear can be worked on or stored and cold zones are the other spaces such as offices or living spaces.
The diesel trucks are hooked up to piping that pulls the exhaust fumes into a system instead of directly into the air.
The fire station also has a small sauna that fire fighters are recommended to sit in for 15 minutes within 24 hours of a fire to pull remaining contaminants out of the skin.
The station also allows the department to better incorporate the fire fighters’ families, through things such as meals or movie nights.
Inside the front of the station is a large training room that Laskowske said will be used by the police and fire departments but he hopes it will also be used for outside trainers to come into the city or for other community groups to utilise for things such as CPR training. It could fit up to 80.
The new station was just over $9 million but Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen says you can't put a dollar value on the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. "It's important for any council member or mayor, safety is the number one thing for the public and it doesn't just stop at your public, it goes all the way up to your staff," said Mayor Rasmussen.
The city and the fire fighters looked at several designs, toured other fire stations, making sure that what they invested in, put safety first. "There is never ever any question about that, the fire fighters helped us understand the importance of the safety features in this building and hopefully it keeps them safe for the future," Mayor Rasmussen added.
"My personnel are the most important thing to me, without them you can't go anywhere, you're constantly looking at things that they can stay safe and do their jobs," said Laskowske.
And while Laskowske does have a tough job keeping himself and his team safe, he says he wouldn't have it any other way. "The fire service gets in your blood and once it's in your blood it's like a cancer itself, it won't leave and you never want to leave it, you enjoy it so much and there is so much with it, that you want to be a part of it, you just can't walk away from it."
Albert Lea Fire Rescue History
The Albert Lea Bucket Brigade was organized by a group of volunteers on 22 November 1870 and consisted of 30 volunteers. Soon after, the city saw a need for a better organization to protect the citizens. On 5 August 1879, the Albert Lea Fire Department was organised under Chief FB Fobes.
The first fire station was at the corner of Main Street and Washington adjacent to what was then City Hall. The apparatus consisted of a steam engine water pump and two hose carts which were pulled by horses to the scene until 1891 when the waterworks system was completed. In 1903, a new City Hall was built on North Broadway and also housed the Fire Department on two floors. The first motor driven water pump truck was put into service 18 August 1918 and lead a new era of apparatus used for firefighting.
On 1 May 1948 the department went to a fully paid organisation in order to better serve residents and businesses. The Fire Department moved to its present location at 221 East Clark Street in the City Centre in 1968. The City entered into an agreement with the Albert Lea Township Fire Department on 15 October 1991 to become a combination department, with the Township acting as part-time fire fighters for the City Fire Department.
The Albert Lea Fire Department invests a significant amount of time in training on a yearly basis. With the ever changing demands of the fire service in the past decade, we have recognised the need for extensive training in a variety of fields including:
In addition to rescue training, we cross train our shift personnel in the areas of public education, fire and safety inspections, public speaking, leadership and team building. As the needs of the community evolve, so too does the training requirements of the fire service. We as a department strive to plan ahead for potential needs and to be progressive in our approaches to fully meet those needs.
Sources: The City of Albert Lea, Brunton Architects and Engineers, ABC 6 News