Medina asks for fire department merger by Oct. 1

Council approves letter notifying Hamel FD

The Medina City Council Tuesday, April 2, approved a letter to the Hamel Volunteer Fire Department (HFD) asking it to complete a merger/consolidation with the Loretto Volunteer Fire Department (LFD) by Oct. 1.

City Administrator Scott Johnson penned the letter, dated April 3, in reference to recent events that have taken place over the past month between the HFD and the city of Corcoran. “We were notified by the city of Corcoran that they have given the Hamel Fire Department notice of terminating their contract with your organization and the city of Medina,” Johnson said.

The city of Medina is asking the Hamel Volunteer Fire Department to complete a merger with the Loretto Fire Department by Oct. 1 or sooner, if merger consultants recommend an earlier date. (Sun staff file photo by Susan Van Cleaf)
The city of Medina is asking the Hamel Volunteer Fire Department to complete a merger with the Loretto Fire Department by Oct. 1 or sooner, if merger consultants recommend an earlier date. (Sun staff file photo by Susan Van Cleaf)

He addressed the letter to Acting Fire Chief Neil Wolfe. Contacted after the meeting, Wolfe said Brandon Guest had resigned as fire chief, effective Monday, March 25.

Asked about his resignation as fire chief, Guest said he planned to continue as a Hamel firefighter. He had served as fire chief for 20 years and, so far, he has 36 years service as a firefighter to his credit.

Guest said he resigned in order to devote more time to his full-time job. Working with shared service arrangements between the Loretto and Hamel Fire Departments was demanding more and more of his time. It got to the point where his full-time job and his part-time fire chief job were no longer compatible with each other.

After they learned of the HFD’s contract issues with Corcoran, Medina officials had several meetings with Emergency Services Consultants Inc. (ESCI), the consultants who are helping the two fire departments implement a merger/consolidation. Grant money from the Minnesota State Fire Marshal’s office is paying for ESCI’s involvement in the process.

Johnson’s letter continues, “It is our (Medina’s) belief that a merger/consolidation as a whole is in the best interest of the city of Medina, its residents and the community as a whole. Given the situation we are presented with, we are the only standing customer of the Hamel Fire Department.”

The letter asks Acting Chief Wolfe to pursue the merger/consolidation process between the HFD and LFD. “We will work with the two departments to the best of our ability, with the understanding that this must happen efficiently and as quickly as possible,” Johnson said.

He continued, saying that Medina expects the HFD “to participate 100 percent in this merger/ consolidation process.”

The letter then sets deadlines by which action must take place. “It is essential that we have time frames in place to complete this merger/consolidation for the safety of our community and our residents,” the letter said.

Johnson said Medina is asking the HFD to complete the merger/consolidation with the LFD by Oct. 1 or sooner, if recommended by the consultant. City staff and officials will monitor the process and “assist where they can to make this happen.”

The Medina City Council will require a progress report at its Aug. 7 meeting. “If it is determined that there is not substantial progress moving forward on the merger/consolidation, the city of Medina will give written notice of termination of the Hamel Fire contract,” the letter said.

“The city of Medina recognizes the valuable service the Hamel Fire Department has provided for our community for the past decades,” the letter continues. “We are appreciative of the dedicated service from the Hamel Fire Department members. But, in light of the current circumstances, we have to move to a new model of fire service for our community.”

Acting Chief Wolfe commented on Medina’s letter, “We appreciate Medina’s willingness to move forward with the consolidation, and we will work enthusiastically to meet the expectations in the letter. Medina is experiencing a housing boom and the city’s population is increasing. This is an opportunity to provide the increased service levels needed now and moving forward into the future.”

He added, “I look forward to working with the Loretto Fire Department in the consolidation process.”

The HFD and LFD explored the possibility of a merger/ consolidation in 2011 when the two departments contracted with ESCI to do a feasibility study. Grant money from the state Fire Marshal’s office paid for the study. The two departments followed up on ESCI’s December 2011 report by looking at ways to cooperate with each other. For example, the HFD and LFD have been responding together on calls for service, and they are in the process of setting up combined firefighter training.

The merger/consolidation process took on increased urgency when the city of Corcoran sent a letter dated Feb. 19 to then Hamel Fire Chief Guest. The letter alleged that the HFD had four breaches of its contract with the city. Under a paragraph entitled “Other Miscellaneous Concerns,” the letter said, “Hamel VFD did not move forward in a timely manner with the ESCI report of December 2011. Although not a technical breach of the contract, the city of Corcoran feels this is significant.”

The fire contract between Corcoran and the HFD will end on May 19.

Meanwhile, Corcoran Police Chief Sean Gormley has informed the Corcoran City Council about the city’s plans for future fire protection. The Loretto Fire and Rescue Department would provide primary fire service for the current Hamel district that covers the southeast quadrant of the city. The city also contracts with three other departments: Hanover in the northwest, Rogers in the northeast and Loretto in the southwest.

Gormley also said the Rogers department would provide auto aid (start to priority fire calls) to Loretto, and that Maple Grove would continue its mutual aid agreement.