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Firefighters reassurance program expanding across the county during COVID-19 pandemic

The Albert Lea Fire Department’s longtime reassurance program is expanding as a way to help people in need in Freeborn County during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The traditional program has been in place since the late 1960s and has been designed for seniors who want to stay in their home and have an independent life but also have the security of someone checking in on them each day.

Albert Lea Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Laskowske said the department has averaged about 30 to 50 people in the original program.

Now, the fire department is working with the United Way of Freeborn County and the faith-based volunteer community to reach out to seniors and other vulnerable residents who might need help with other needs as officials seek to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

“We just want to help in any way we can,” Laskowske said. “We are dealing with unique times, and we all have to find ways to help. This program is here and is a perfect resource for this type of event.”

Seniors can participate in the traditional program, in which members of the program are given a specific phone number to call.

They call in on the line every day, including weekends and holidays, between 7 and 11 a.m., and leave a message to let the firefighters know they are OK and if they have any needs.

If firefighters do not receive a call by 11 a.m., they call the participants to check on them. If the participants do not answer the phone, the firefighters then come out to their homes to check on them.

This option requires a lockbox on the participant’s home with a key to their house in it. The fire department has these lockboxes, so there is no cost to participants, and the fire staff are the only ones with access to it.

Though the traditional reassurance program has only been available for Albert Lea seniors, it will be open to seniors anywhere in Freeborn County at this time. When the pandemic is under control, it will go back to being for Albert Lea residents only, a press release states.

A second option is open to seniors or others and gives participants a central location to call to get any help they may need.

Participants will be given a specific number to call and would only call the number if they have questions or need something, such as groceries or medications.

The participant would call and leave a message, and the information would be forwarded to the United Way, which will then send a volunteer to help with the need.

No lockbox would be placed on the residence for this program, and this part of the program will only be operational until the pandemic is under control.

To join the program, people should call 507-377-4341 or 507-377-4311.