By Theodore Tollefson The Hastings Fire Department has been around for over a century and in that time has held the record for having the largest service area in the Twin Cities. The current service …
By Theodore Tollefson
The Hastings Fire Department has been around for over a century and in that time has held the record for having the largest service area in the Twin Cities. The current service area for HFD reaches over 160 square miles, stretching from Point Douglas to the outskirts of Inver Grove Heights along Highway 52. The service area of the Hastings Fire Department is so large that the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul could both fit within it.
The service area for Hastings Fire Department and ambulance services has remained so large for so long since Hastings was one of the first cities ever established in Dakota County. As more of the suburbs in and neighboring Dakota County have grown throughout the past 50 to 60 years, their fire departments have absorbed some of the service area that used to belong to the Hastings Fire Department.
Chris Paulson, Assistant Fire Chief of the Hastings Fire Department, spoke on how mutual aid agreements have developed between towns over that time as more neighboring fire departments have grown.
“Since our area is so big, we’ve recently developed a system of automatic mutual aid, which means that if we get a call for a structure fire, that let’s say is in the Southwest quarter of our service area down by Hampton and Farmington, those two departments look at this best at the same time. And they can even get there first because they may be closer. Even though it’s a fire in our service area, they’ll help us by getting things started before we get there,” said Paulson.
Even though the service area for the Hastings Fire Department is the largest in the Twin Cities, the population density within the service area is still smaller than the likes of other suburbs such as Bloomington, Plymouth and Woodbury.
Having such a large area of service to cover, the number of calls that get called in for fires and EMS services are high within the Hastings Fire Department. In 2020, there were 448 fire calls made to the Hastings Fire Department along with 3,237 EMS calls as reported by the HFD.
The 20 year average for fire-related calls has been around 500 calls per year. EMS calls have had a slight increase each year since 2001 ranging anywhere from three to five percent each year. As of July 29, 2021, the Hastings Fire Department has received 2,038 EMS calls and responded to 374 fires in the area as shared by Hastings Fire Chief John Townsend.
“The Hastings Fire Department is currently averaging 11.5 calls per day. If this pace continues, we will finish 2021 with 4,200 calls. We anticipate our EMS volume to reach 3,500 calls this year,” said Townsend.
The pace of calls made for fires in the area is slightly higher than usual for the Hastings See FIRE DEPARTMENT Page 3 Fire Department, but Assistant Chief Paulson assures that drought conditions during the summer of 2021 did not directly increase the amount of fires called in to the department.
“Well, we’ve been pretty lucky this year, as far as fires go. The drought conditions haven’t been terrible because we really haven’t seen a lot of wild land or grass fires this year. And honestly, I think we just got lucky. Towards the end of August and September, here, we’ve gotten a fair amount of rain, and things have really cleaned up pretty well, too. Which will probably help us out quite a bit this fall, you know, as things naturally tend to die off, dry out until we get snow cover. So we actually haven’t seen an uptick in grass fires for wildland fires,” said Paulson.
This summer was still the driest on record for the state of Minnesota since 1988 as well as the hottest on average at 75.6 degrees fahrenheit. With summers becoming increasingly hotter everywhere due to climate change, fire departments everywhere do their best to be prepared but haven’t always factored in what has yet to occur.
Assistant Chief Paulson explained how the Hastings Fire Department has dealt with pre- paring for the coming possibilities of increases in wildfires. “I wouldn’t say that we’ve factored in climate change, we are always striving to be prepared no matter what. I can’t say that climate change has affected us, I mean, other than it being hotter outside. We haven’t really factored that into our, our operational planning, it’s just a matter of trying to be prepared as much as possible.
Paulson continued, “Unfortunately we’ve historically been a reactive type of service where something happens, and we react to it in the future. If we start to see an increase in incidents of wildland fires, or prolonged periods of dry weather, I think that the planning might change. At this point we’ve gotten some rain again and things are looking a lot better than they were in June and July.”
As the service area for the Hastings Fire Department remains the largest in the Twin Cities metro area, the fire department will continue to remain vigilant and work with neighboring cities to ensure fire and EMS calls are met within an adequate amount of time and help those in need throughout the area.