Cloquet, Perch Lake Fire Departments take steps toward mergerAs a first step in what may ultimately be a merger between Cloquet and Perch Lake Fire/EMS departments, Cloquet City Council members unanimously approved an automatic aid agreement at last week’s regular meeting. “We both realize we can’t do it alone anymore,” said Jim Langenbrunner, Cloquet Fire chief, “so we want to create a new team.”
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
As a first step in what may ultimately be a merger between Cloquet and Perch Lake Fire/EMS departments, Cloquet City Council members unanimously approved an automatic aid agreement at last week’s regular meeting.
“We both realize we can’t do it alone anymore,” said Jim Langenbrunner, Cloquet Fire chief, “so we want to create a new team.”
Tentatively called Knife River Fire District, the two departments will keep their current facilities, staff and equipment and work toward joint training and other cooperative functions.
“The purpose is to try and enhance the level of service to our respective residents,” said Brian Fritsinger, Cloquet city administrator. “It is a step beyond the normal mutual aid agreement in that it makes personnel, vehicles and other equipment available to both parties during most calls.”
Cost is the major motivating factor behind the merger, Langenbrunner said.
“Declining state aid, rising equipment costs and the decline in recruiting and retaining volunteers are the ongoing reasons,” he said. “A new fire engine alone is somewhere between $250,000-$300,000 or more.”
By combining resources and working together to answer ambulance, fire and rescue calls, Langenbrunner hopes for a more efficient and cost-effective department. Currently, fire departments work independently and have the option to call in other departments if needed. Cloquet has 22 full-time paid firefighters and paramedics and Perch Lake has 18 volunteer firefighters.
Residents will not likely notice much difference in service.
“They might notice a new logo on our trucks eventually to reflect the Knife River name,” Langenbrunner said.
Between the Cloquet and Perch Lake Township, the two departments cover 71 square miles. Perch Lake Township is west of Cloquet and covers much of the Big Lake area.
The potential merger comes after two years of talks between seven Carlton County fire and ambulance departments including Cloquet, Perch Lake Township, Fond du Lac Reservation, Carlton, Scanlon, Thomson Township and Wrenshall.
According to Steve White, Carlton Fire chief, merger talks broke down between the other entities recently due to the perceived costs involved.
“I can tell you from Carlton’s vantage point, we believe that joint effort is the right way to go,” he said. “We think there’s a lot of opportunity there to blend the skills, experience and expertise we have in this area. Right now we are waiting to see how Cloquet and Perch Lake come together and I think they will be successful.”
The mutual aid agreement has yet to be approved by the Perch Lake Township Board, but Langenbrunner expects the measure to succeed when it is presented at the June 9 meeting.
“This is the beginning of creating a new entity,” Langenbrunner said. “It will take a lot of work by city and township administrators, elected officials and fire personnel, but we are excited to move forward.”