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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It Was Not About The Money

This story is a bit like a snowball that was set in motion by a series of events and the right people coming together at the right time.

Event #1. Neighboring fire departments were trying to develop a common RIT (Rapid Intervention Team) bag that could be used by any department at a fire requiring mutual aid. (For those unfamiliar with RIT, it is the team of firefighters who are assigned to stand by to rescue a firefighter in distress or respond to a mayday call at a fire.)

Eden Prairie Fire Department air pack being scanned into the tracking system.
Event #2. Those discussions progressed to thoughts that a common brand of air pack would seem to make sense, as these departments use “mutual aid’ with each other frequently. Each department had a different brand of air pack and some were very loyal to their brand. 
Event #3. In the words of Eden Prairie’s Assistant Fire Chief Steve Koering: “We needed to get out of the air pack business.” The demands for certification and training of department technicians—coupled with the ongoing demand for tracking and accountability—sent a clear message that they needed to focus on their core competencies. This responsibility, along with the shared risk, could be transferred to a manufacturer who understood the issues and would create a best practices solution.

Event #4. “We saw this as an opportunity to capitalize on the reduced risk while promoting shared services,” Minnetonka’s Fire Chief Joe Wallin added.  Several departments—including Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, St. Louis Park and Hopkins—worked with the Minnetonka and Eden Prairie City Attorneys to create a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) for the purpose of buying a common air pack and wrapping the air pack maintenance into the agreement with the manufacturer. The JPA group worked hard in uncharted waters over a 4-year period to achieve the results realized today. The firefighters quickly overcame their apprehension of switching brands of air packs and saw the benefits of collaborative technology. Now bar coding and scanning—tied to a web-based application that tracks the history of every unit in service from the time the pack is delivered until it ultimately is replaced or upgraded—is the method for managing this important information. 

Minnetonka firefighters with turnout gear and air packs purchased through the JPA.

Event #5. The group has continued to expand in scope and membership. It now has 20 members, with six more in the process of joining. One of the new members is in far western Minnesota. The power of the JPA can now be used for any public safety equipment. Current agreements exist for SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus), turnout gear, hose testing, and station uniforms. Thoughts of adding ladder testing and annual physicals are on the horizon. Members can access the services they need within the JPA contracts and can actively participate as members of its Operating Committee. 

The SW Metro JPA is about: responsible government, employee safety, accountability, and interoperability. It is not about the money.

So what about the money then? Ultimately, working together like this saves money in both the long and the short run as well—and there is no cost to join.

For more information, contact Steve Koering at (952) 949-8338 or


Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next time…"HOT HOT HOT—Summer’s Here!"
In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.

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