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Shakopee Mdewakanton build a fire department

PRIOR LAKE, Minn. - For most localities near tribal casinos it's enough to have the tribe buy a fire truck or help build a fire facility. But the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community has gone a step further building a state-of-the art fire department from scratch and helping surrounding communities with fire protection and medical emergencies.

The department is only a little more than a year old, but it makes an average of 100 calls a month, 70 percent of which are for medical emergencies, said Jim Muelken, SMSC fire marshal.

"The success of the department reflects well on the entire community," said Stanley Crooks, chairman of the SMSC.

The new department is trained in hazardous material handling, has EMTs on duty and plans to include an ambulance in the near future.

The idea for the department came when Crooks and Muelken watched a video of a car fire in the parking lot of the Mystic Lake Casino, which is owned by the tribe.

Muelken said Crooks asked why the fire trucks from Prior Lake took so long. It took the Prior Lake fire department at least 11 minutes to get to the casino area. Then Crooks asked Muelken if the tribe could buy a fire truck. That's when the ball started rolling for a new department to serve the Shakopee Community and four other communities through a reciprocal mutual aid agreement.

The Shakopee Tribal government picks up the entire tab for the fire department. The Shakopee Community has totaled more than $2.5 million in contributions and aid to other communities and other tribes in the past few years and tribal leaders say the philanthropy will continue.

The new fire department hired 15 full-time employees and there are 15 paid on call staff. The new building, which opened six months ago, houses a rescue vehicle, a mini pumper, a full-sized pumper, a first response vehicle and a utility pickup.

"We are excited to provide this provide this opportunity to the young people of the community," said Glynn Crooks, vice chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Community.

Muelken said because of the quality of construction of new homes and safer heating systems, home fires will require the least number of calls. Medical emergencies will take up the bulk of the department's work, but the fire response team is prepared for all fire emergencies.

The Shakopee Community is located within the city of Prior Lake and for that community, which has its own department, it adds the additional quick response and provides an additional free service.

"We have a staff on 24-hours a day, and most of the time we also have medics on 24-hours. This morning we had a construction accident and our response was to send two paramedics and an EMT. There is a duty crew of three at the facility all the time and if a call taxes that crew additional personnel will be paged for assistance.

"The surrounding communities are getting a lot out of this," Muelken said.

He said the new department was probably the busiest in Scott county.

In the beginning a few of the current staff of the community trained to be brigade level fire fighters. They were able to perform exterior fire fighting, car fires, dumpster fires and the like. The main group started out as brigade level trained, but since them the entire staff is firefighter one trained. "Every day the duty crew trains and twice a week the regular staff trains," Muelken said.

Half of the department is Hazmat technically trained. They are the ones that put on protective suits and clean up hazardous sites or spills.

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community government funds the entire department, purchased and built the equipment and facility. But that doesn't mean there is an unlimited flow of money.

Muelken said that any time something like this is started it's not like you can buy what ever you want. We have a budgeting process that comes up each year and it's so new that some people ask "why do you need that or why are those trucks so expensive and this or that," Muelken said. "We have to work for what we get. But we have been very fortunate with the equipment and the responses so far."

At first the response from the outlying communities was somewhat tentative, but now Muelken said the communities use the service as a second station. The communities served are working on a procedure that is called auto-aid. If one of the other towns gets a call for a house the SMSC unit is automatically called, and vice versa.

"Communities that surround the tribal community here are very fortunate because this is just resources that otherwise wouldn't be here, and actually because of the budget problem the state is having, they are very fortunate to be in this area," Muelken said.

To keep up with the potential increase in the need for future firefighters, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Community has partnered with Learning for Life, a division of the Indianhead Countil of the Boy Scouts of America to create an Explorer Post.

Young men and women age 14-20 can participate in the program, which is sponsored by the employees of the fire department. The employees will serve as advisors to the group as they learn about careers in firefighting, emergency health care and related fields.