By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN When a fire was reported Nov. 29, only four of Winsted’s volunteer firefighters responded to the call, Mayor Steve Stotko said at the Dec. 2 council work session.
“It was Thanksgiving weekend; probably a lot of people were out of town,” Stotko said.
The incident reflects a concerning trend of a lack of volunteer firefighters in many communities across the US.
“Some departments are better off than others, but being shorthanded is not unique to Winsted,” Fire Chief Chad Engel said. “A lot of towns have trouble with daytime calls, but we’re pretty lucky to have a group of guys who work in town, and the businesses don’t restrict them from going to calls.”
With 23 firefighters, Winsted is seven people short of a full roster.
“We have no applicants at this time,” Engel said.
He added that two of the 23 firefighters are currently on medical leave, which means the department is effectively down to 21.
“We’ve got to get more volunteers down at that fire department,” Stotko said.
As of the end of November, the department had responded to 215 calls, which is nine calls fewer than this time in 2013.
City Administrator Clay Wilfahrt said some people who work in Winsted but live in another community have asked if they could join the department. Currently, participants must reside in or near Winsted.
“I think it’s a good idea, but there are a lot of things that need to be worked out,” Stotko said.
In other fire department discussion, Engel reported:
• The 125th anniversary celebration in September was very well attended, with a 5k run, a dance at the Blue Note featuring DiamondBack, grease fire and auto extrication demonstrations, free food, and more.
“Personally, I don’t think the day could have gone better than it did,” Engel said.
• A new steel roof will likely be installed at the fire station in the spring.
• The department has been utilizing grant funding to have car fire, ice rescue, and other training classes in Winsted, instead of sending firefighters to other towns.
• The department plans to purchase about 17 pairs of boots, and is also looking into getting better gloves with more grip.