Swanson to step down as Detroit Lakes fire chief; will remain on force
Detroit Lakes Fire Chief Ryan Swanson announced his intention to step down as the city's fire chief at the end of 2022. Swanson will remain with the department. Detroit Lakes city staff have begun
DETROIT LAKES — The Detroit Lakes fire chief announced he will be stepping down at the end of the year.
Ryan Swanson, fire chief for Detroit Lakes, said he will remain a member of the department going forward, but the hourly demands of the volunteer fire chief position became too great as he took a larger role at Swansons' Repair Inc. following the retirement of his father, who was also a former city fire chief.
"It really comes down to the amount of time," said Swanson. "To do the job right, I was spending three to four hours per day as a volunteer chief, just with the amount of paperwork it takes, and it takes a lot of my time away at work with my family business paying me to do fire department stuff."
He added that with his father's retirement from Swansons' Repair, he doesn't have that other person to lean-on at the repair shop to pick up the excess workload. But, Swanson said, he has heard the same issues raised with many of the department's previous chiefs, who try to balance the duties of city fire chief with their own employers.
"At the end of the day, the businesses that have been supporting fire chiefs have actually taken a financial strain to do it," said Swanson. "Scott Flynn, when he worked at Wold's RV, myself, with Swansons' Repair, Dave Baer, with Markuson-Baer Insurance, whether you do the job to 100 percent of what a volunteer can, or even 10 percent, it's still taxing on the business to financially support it."
City fire calls, mutual aid calls to greater Becker County, and other duties have all increased in recent years, he said. Swanson said he was talking with a former member of the department about their 160 fire calls, so far, in 2022, and the member was stunned because they used to only respond to 160 calls in an entire year.
"We're running about 300 (calls per year), it's a lot for volunteers," said Swanson. "For all these members of the department, to leave their place of employment, their families, night and day, get up and leave and run — and I don't regret it, I love doing it, but it is a lot."
Swanson has been Detroit Lakes' fire chief since 2019, but has been a member of the department since 2003, when his dad served as chief.
"Growing up, (the fire department) was always part of the lifestyle," he said. "I'm a thrill seeker, adrenaline junkie kind of stuff, and it all kind of goes together. So, what else is more cool than running into a burning building?"
Swanson added that when his dad stepped down as chief, he was a captain at the time and his father ended up working under him as part of his crew.
Members of the Detroit Lakes city staff have begun preparing a new full-time fire chief job description, to be presented to the city's public safety committee for debate. The measure is expected to be discussed when the committee meets on Aug. 8. Swanson said he thinks the city should also include a couple of daytime firefighting positions as well.
"A daytime alarm call, that staff member could take care of that alarm call and let the other people stay at work," he said. Adding, the current firehouse, built in the 1960s, already has a designated bunk room because city leaders back then saw the need for a future full-time staff.
Swanson said there are public safety grants available that could help the department with some equipment and staffing needs, but he doesn't have the time to write them. With a career fire chief, that could change, he said, and end up being a positive step overall for public safety in Detroit Lakes.
"One department down in the metro ... it was 10 to 12 new hires, full-time people for five years, with the grant, it was free for that city," he said. "If you had somebody here that could write that, than all of a sudden you could start finding a way to make things a lot better and it would also take a little bit of the financial strain away."
The main positive from having a few full time members of the fire department is that response times would decrease, since the members are already at the station, Swanson said. Adding that the earlier firefighters get to a scene, the better their chance of knocking a fire down before gets out of control. They will also be able to respond to more medical calls-for-service and alleviate some of the burden on the city's police officers and EMS.