Volunteer firefighters are needed in Iron Range communities
Volunteer firefighters are needed not only on a daily basis, but especially in small towns, like Ellsburg and Cotton. These essential men and women spend their time keeping the public safe without compensation.
However, there are only few volunteers at a time, and need to rely on other volunteer fire departments to assist in fire. Unfortunately, in many communities up on the Iron Range, there are not as many volunteers becoming firefighters.
Heidi Yokel, of the Ellsburg Fire Department, said fighting fires is extremely challenging when there are not enough volunteers. “We’re a volunteer department of about 21 members,” Yokel said. “We can always use more volunteers. People work during the day. Sometimes it’s just some of us retired people that are around when somebody needs you.”
Yokel also said most people worry about being a volunteer firefighter because of structure fires. However, more often than not, Yokel says they are mostly taking care of wildfires. “We usually get one large wildfire each year,” Yokel said. “This year we had it on Highway 53. It was ten miles from Colby Lake Road down Berg lake. So that took quite a few departments to put that out.”
Yokel also said becoming a volunteer firefighter is more simple than people think. One of the few requirements is to pass a criminal background check. “I also say if you can hold a firehose you’re good to go,” Yokel said.
Yokel said whenever there’s fires up on the Range, there’s a mutual agreement between local volunteer fire departments. “We work a lot with Cotton, whether they have the fires, or whether we have the fires,” Yokel said. “Other departments up here that come together are Kelsey, Central Lakes, Northland, and even from as far as Alborn will come up and help us out.”
Craig Kinsley, a volunteer with the Cotton Fire Department, said volunteer firefighters are needed now more than ever. “We’re always looking for volunteers. We’ve always been around the same population of members. We got 21 or 24 members almost continually through my career here, which has been 47 years.”
Although, when it comes to larger fires, it sometimes takes even more help by relying on the 148th Wing or the MN-DNR. “We have mutual aid association clear all the way down to Carlton area because we’re right in the middle of the Range,” Kinsley said. “We have all kinds of mutual aid departments and it’s always good, because volunteers are harder to find nowadays. and everybody’s busy.”