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Details of Kandiyohi County, Minn., day care license helped save Willmar family

WILLMAR -- When Sarah and Aaron Minnick started operating a family day care out of their home in Willmar in 2000 they were forced to make some changes to their home to comply with a lenghty list of licensing require-ments.

They needed to beef up a firewall between the house and attached garage, install a self-closing door to the garage, conduct regular fire drills and make sure all smoke alarms had batteries and were working.

The county's home day care licensor paid close attention to the details of requirements, which the family carefully followed and complied with, said Aaron Minnick in testimony last week before the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.

That attention to detail saved his family's life last year.

"I wouldn't be standing here today," said Minnick, who praised the county's staff and day care licensing procedures. "This process works and it works well."

Minnick's story was part of a family services report on licensing of day care facilities and showed why the licensing requirements, which could seem unreasonable to some, are vital.

Minnick told the commissioners that the requirements proved themselves on May 3 of last year.

During the night, as the Minnicks and their five children slept, two young arsonists crept onto their property, doused their garage with gasoline and lit a match.

As smoke began to billow, the smoke alarms sounded.

Because their whole family had participated in the day care fire drills their children knew how to escape the burning home and met outside.

The fire wall did its job and the self-closing door, which Minnick admits he didn't want to install because it didn't seem to make sense at the time, prevented more smoke from entering the home.

"These things were put into play that night," said Minnick. The fact that the home had been inspected to meet the licensing standards "saved our lives," he said.

The devastating fire forced the family to abandon their home. Because the daycare business was the family's primary source of income, and out of concern for disrupting the families of the children they cared for, the Minnicks sought to quickly restart the business in a new location.

They found a rental home just a few blocks away and Minnick said the county staff was there immediately to help them meet the requirements and get the home licensed.

Just two weeks after the fire, the day care was operating again, Minnick said, adding that no short cuts were taken and the same strict guidelines were followed.

"The county got us running in two weeks," he said.

They've since built a new home on the same lot as their original house and are continuing to care for children.

The county was there again to make a "seamless transition" from the rental property to a permanent home.

"We just love taking care of kids," Minnick said.

Kandiyohi County Commissioner Harlan Madsen said Minnick's story shows there are "blessings of meticulous" attention to detail.

Kandiyohi County currently has about 125 licensed family day care providers.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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