Firefighters know prevention is key

Published 9:38 am Monday, April 18, 2011

In between their typical jobs of battling fires, flushing fire hydrants and responding to emergency calls, Albert Lea firefighters take several hours a day to add some simple reassurance to a couple dozen city residents.

Starting more than 30 years ago, the reassurance call-in program gives people living alone the opportunity to make daily contact with a firefighter to let them know they are OK.

While the program is popular with the elderly, it is not limited to them. Anyone who lives alone, especially people with medical problems, can benefit from the service.

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As part of the program, residents call the fire department between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. each day to reassure them they are doing OK.

If the participant does not call by 11 a.m., a firefighter calls to check on them. If there is still no answer, a firefighter goes to the participant’s house to check on him or her.

“I couldn’t live without it,” said one participant, Jean Tostenson. “I depend on the fire department early in the morning.”

On Friday, members of the program got the opportunity to meet with the firefighters in person for what is an annual party.

“It’s very important because I live alone,” said another participate, Katherine Farry.

Farry said she has a note on the top of her coffee maker to remind her to call each morning.

She noted she has been participating in the service for 10 years.

Farry said while she does have family and friends in Albert Lea, she doesn’t want to burden them with having to check up on her.

“It’s a great service,” said Albert Lea Fire Chief Paul Stieler. “We enjoy doing it, and it really helps these people.”

Firefighter Bart Berven said the program began after a man died and wasn’t found till some time later. A fireman who went to the man’s church decided he didn’t want that to happen again, so he started the program. There is a separate phone line just for the program.

Besides helping the firefighters keep in contact with these residents, it also gives the firefighters to help them out in a variety of capacities, even if it’s just lending a listening ear.

“Sometimes we’re the only ones they talk to during the day other than family,” Berven said.

“This is one thing we really take pride in.”

If anyone wants to sign up to be a part of the reassurance call-in program, they can contact the fire and inspection office at 377-4340. The program is free and open to city residents.