More than just fire

Published 9:58 am Monday, October 17, 2011

Children wait in line with their parents to try out the fire hose at the Albert Lea Fire Department Open House on Saturday. -- Amy Wasson/Albert Lea Tribune

By Amy Wasson, for the Tribune

A sudden honk from a fire engine made a group of parents and children jump. A young child sitting in the driver’s seat giggled at the reaction.

Five-year-old Aiden Manges aims a fire hose into Fountain Lake with the assistance of Firefighter Bill Lehman at the Albert Lea Fire Department Open House on Saturday. -- Amy Wasson/Albert Lea Tribune

Meanwhile, children lined up for a turn to aim the fire hose across Fountain Lake, creating rainbows from the resulting mist. As children scrambled in and out of the open doors of the various fire engines and truck, parents chatted with firefighters.

These were scenes from Saturday, when dozens of people came out for the Albert Lea Fire Department open house. This annual event gives people an opportunity to see the inside of the fire house, meet firefighters and learn about the services the department offers.

“It’s never just been about fighting fires,” said Capt. Scott Hanna.

From building inspections to arson investigation, from fire prevention training in schools to extracting accident victims from automobiles, from fire hydrant maintenance to blood pressure checks, the fire department does a lot, Hanna said. Every Albert Lea firefighter is trained extensively and cross-trained to provide a wide variety of services.

Ninety-four-year-old Cordelia Olson smiled broadly as she pushed her walker through the displays set up in the fire station. She attended the open house with her daughter and son-in-law, Shirley and Skip Ristau from Waseca, as well as her 9-month-old great-great-grandson, to meet the people she talks to every day.

Ron & Tara Johnson watch as their three children check out a fire engine at the Albert Lea Fire Department Open House on Saturday.

Olson, who lives alone, participates in the Reassure Call-In Line program and calls the fire department every day before 11 a.m. If she fails to make that call, a firefighter pays her a visit, checking to see if she is all right. The Ristaus can’t say enough good things about the program operated by the Fire Department and expressed how reassuring it is to them knowing that department personnel not only hear from her daily but that they would be first to check on her if she didn’t call in.

Hanna said the program “is unique to Albert Lea and is designed to help people in Albert Lea.” The free service is used by people of all ages, for short or long periods of time, and is available to anyone living in the city limits.

“You can always call a firefighter if you need help with something,” Interim Fire Chief Dwaine Winkels said as he watched families touring the living quarters in the fire station. Though the department may no longer save kittens stuck in trees, it is always ready to jump into action when help is needed.

Hanna reflected on the 22-plus years he has been in the department. It’s “not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. They pay me to help people.”

At the Albert Lea Fire Department Open House on Saturday, firefighter jackets, coveralls and boots are lined-up ready for the next call.