Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Kandiyohi County fire departments say they're prepared in case of COVID-19 outbreak

Fire Department officials in Kandiyohi County said they've been following safety guidelines to help lessen the chance of a COVID-19 outbreak but if an outbreak were to occur, mutual aid agreements within the county and state will help with any staffing shortages.

Area firefighters say they are prepared in case of a COVID-19 outbreak. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo

WILLMAR — As positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Minnesota and across the nation, affecting businesses and daily life, so too does it affect fire department readiness.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Fire Marshal Division has created a statewide website to monitor fire departments , which is updated each weekday, according to a news release from the department.

The website assigns a color code to reporting fire departments based on serviceability related to current COVID-19 outbreaks.

As of Monday, no reporting departments are out of service, though the Edina Fire Department is suffering from a significant COVID-19 outbreak.

No other departments are listed as having a significant outbreak, but as of Monday, 93 fire departments in the state are listed as having a member test positive for COVID-19 . Currently, 394 departments are listed as free of COVID-19 and 288 departments in the state have not reported their numbers.


“COVID-19 is a serious illness that can affect anyone, including firefighters,” State Fire Marshal Jim Smith said in the release. “We are working with fire service leaders to make sure they have what they need to continue doing what they do best: keeping their communities safe.”

In Kandiyohi County, local fire departments have mutual aid agreements with other departments in the case of an outbreak that would cripple response times — agreements that were in place long before the pandemic for various forms of assistance among departments.

“If we did start seeing a major outbreak, we would start responding in a different manner,” Willmar Fire Chief Frank Hanson said. “Maybe first with limited personnel instead of the whole department on calls until we knew what was going.”

Hanson, who became chief in 2015, said the departments in the county have a good working relationship, but if a situation requires more manpower than they can muster, they can reach out to fire departments across the state for aid.

“We interact pretty well,” Hanson said.

The Minnesota Intrastate Mutual Aid Plan has been used twice in 2020 , according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety: Once in February in Becker for a recycling fire and in May during the civil unrest in the Twin Cities following the death of George Floyd.

Hanson said on Monday that his department had one full-time firefighter who also does administrative work and one paid on-call firefighter out with COVID-19.

“So we’re doing pretty good right now,” Hanson said. “Hopefully it will stay that way.”


Hanson said they have protocols in place and they are being closely followed.

“We’re just hoping and praying (the virus) doesn’t affect us like you have with some other departments,” Hanson said.

Emergency services workers have an increased risk of catching or spreading the virus due to their frequent contacts with the public and the sometimes intimate nature of their work.

Because of that, officials from the Willmar, Kandiyohi and New London Fire Departments said they’ve been cleaning and sanitizing their equipment, social distancing unless closer contact is needed and wearing masks when at the firehouse and on calls.

“We know the risk,” Kandiyohi Fire Chief Jamie Swanson said. “The big thing is, after each call, to make sure everything gets sanitized the best we can so we’re not bringing it home to our families. I think each guy knows that.”

Swanson, who has been Kandiyohi’s fire chief since 2012, said as of last week that none of his 21 firefighters were out with COVID-19, but the department would rely on its mutual aid agreements to help cover staffing shortages should they arise.

New London Assistant Fire Chief Mark Skindelien said his department has had a few exposures but no one on the department’s 25-person roster has had a confirmed case of COVID-19, though Fire Chief Anthony Rupp was out ill last week and a test was pending at that time.

Skindelien, a 16-year firefighter veteran, said they monitor staffing daily and his department, along with New London Ambulance, meet with city officials on a regular basis.


“We have a mutual aid agreement with Kandiyohi County and Stearns County,” Skindelien said. “So if our staffing levels came to a level we couldn’t handle it anymore, if we were shut down, we would of course work with our local departments to cover our area.”

A silhouette of a firefighter casts a shadow during a training session held in March 2018 at the old Mills dealership building on First Street in Willmar. Area firefighters are preparing in case of a COVID-19 outbreak. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo

Mark Wasson has been a public safety reporter with Post Bulletin since May 2022. Previously, he worked as a general assignment reporter in the southwest metro and as a public safety reporter in Willmar, Minn. Readers can reach Mark at mwasson@postbulletin.com.
What To Read Next
Get Local