First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your family, education, background/previous stops, career, etc.?
I have been married to my wife Brenda for 27 years and she has worked for Altru Clinic in Crookston for 25 years. We have two great children, Amber, 23, who is the Wellness Program Coordinator for the Villa St. Vincent. Our son, Luke, is 21 and is attending school at Northland Community College in East Grand Forks. Ha also works at Happy Joes for spending money. We have a dog named Homer and a Granddog named Willow.
I am the youngest of nine children born to my parents, Don and Virginia Froeber. I have lived in Crookston my entire life.I have worked at several businesses in my younger days including, Montagues Flower Shop, M & H Gas Station, Lampert Building Center, and Northern Lumber. I also did carpentry work for several years. I became a Paid on Call firefighter in February of 1996 and a Fulltime Firefighter in September of 1997. I really enjoyed my time as a duty firefighter and all the different shift partners I had over the years.
I reflect back at all of the unusual incidents that we were called out to and were able to rectify. Many of the incidents were never talked about in training classes. We always say that you never know what the next fire call is going to be. I became Fire Chief and Emergency Manager for the City of Crookston on January 1st, 2012 and have enjoyed it a lot.
It’s called the Crookston Fire Department, but the CFD does a lot more than fight fires. Can you describe everything that goes at the CFD and detail the non-fire related things the CFD is responsible for?
I believe that our main focus is Fire Prevention and Public Education. The fire service as a whole is focused on keeping the accidental fires from starting in the first place. It is often said that we are working ourselves out of a job. The way we accomplish this is by educating our citizens when they are young. We visit all of the schools annually with a fire prevention message. The preschoolers through 6th graders get a visit at their school by firefighters.They discuss fire safety in their home, at school, and at play. The Kindergarten classes come to the fire station for a tour and a fire safety presentation.
I know the message that the firefighters give is well received by the kids whenever I see a student's parent, they always comment that their kids want to practice their fire escape plan and to make sure that the smoke alarms are working properly.
We also give numerous fire safety talks and/or fire extinguisher training to church groups, industries, daycare providers, business employees, educators, healthcare providers, senior citizen groups, city and county employees, and many others.The training is free of charge and you can call the fire station to schedule a class.
The fire department also manages the Rental Certification Program for the City. We currently have just under 1300 rental units that are registered. Due to the large amount of units that we inspect, they are on a 3 year rotation for inspection and follow-ups. We will conduct an inspection more often at the owners request. We also do several owner occupied home fire safety inspections. At the owner's request, we will do a walk through their home and check for proper location and function of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. We will also point out any potential safety hazards in the home. We are able to provide smoke detectors for owner occupied homes, free of charge, due to a program funded by The American Red Cross. These detectors need to be installed by fire department personnel or a representative of the American Red Cross.
We also conduct commercial property inspections within the city limits. We conduct a fire safety inspection with property owners or a representative and identify fire safety issues or code violations. These inspections are very well received by the owners as it makes for a safer environment for them and their employees. It also gives us a chance to update our pre plan drawings of their facility and obtain necessary emergency contact information.
With all of the inspections and education that the fire department provides, there will be no way to determine the number of fires, property loss, injuries, or deaths that we were able to prevent. And that is our main goal.
Other programs that the City Council tasked the fire department with is the Long Grass Program, and the Junk & Junk Vehicle Program. Since the adoption of The International Property Maintenance Code a couple years ago, this program has changed to where it is complaint driven for enforcement. These are not our favorite programs to enforce, but we can understand and see the need for them.
The fire department is also in charge of Emergency Management for the city. This includes severe weather notifications & education, staffing of the Emergency Shelter located in the basement of City Hall, preparation for high water events along with other city staff, maintaining & staffing the Emergency Operations Center in City Hall, outdoor warning siren testing & maintenance, establishing short & long term shelter locations, and creating & training a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). We also identified a location, established staff, and equipped a Neighborhood Command Posts in each of the six city wards. These Command Posts will be the heartbeat of the wards for providing valuable information to the Emergency Operations Center so proper equipment and supplies can be forwarded to them in the event of a natural or manmade disaster. This will speed up the recovery process for the city and its citizens.
Those are just a few of the programs that we conduct. We also service almost all of our fire apparatus and equipment, annual service test our ground ladders, fire hose & level “A” haz-mat suits. We also have to inspect all of our rescue ropes & equipment, conduct weekly truck checklists, and weekly self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) checks. We can not forget to mention required firefighting, hazardous materials, emergency medical responder, rope rescue, water rescue, and all types of other training.
With the combined efforts of the Crookston Fire Department, Crookston Firefighters Association, Crookston Water Department, and Polk County Dispatch, we were able to obtain an unprecedented Insurance Services Offices (ISO) Public Protection Classification Rating of 2. This puts Crookston in the top 5% nationally and top 1.5% in Minnesota of the 46,000 fire departments evaluated in the United States. This rating is instrumental in reducing insurance rates for most residential and commercial properties.
How do the CFD and Crookston Firefighters Association work together? How difficult would it be for the CFD to do what it does without the existence of the CFA?
These two groups work very well together to the point that I believe most people in Crookston do not realize that they are two completely different entities. The City of Crookston actually has a Mutual Aid and Working Agreement with the Crookston Firefighters Association (CFA) to assist with fire protection and other incidents that happen within the city limits. They will provide up to 25 well trained firefighters and their own equipment to respond to just about any natural or man-made disaster. The CFA also has fire protection contracts with several surrounding townships. They maintain their own budget, payroll, retirement, Board of Directors, and fire apparatus. They recently purchased, with a little help from the City of Crookston, the old Auto Glass Specialist building on the north end of town to provide an unmanned fire station. This has been working great to cut down response time not only for the citizens of Crookston, but also for the people that live in the townships they provide fire protection to.
The fulltime firefighters provide training, maintenance of equipment, and some record keeping for the CFA. It is a great working relationship between the two groups. And a huge benefit for all of the people that rely on us for fire protection.
A few mayoral administrations ago, there were more than a few whispers in the local newspaper editor’s ear saying that for a town of Crookston’s size, its fire department was simply too big and commanded too many precious dollars in the budget that could be spent elsewhere. Since then, the CFD has seemed to grow in scope, especially with the addition of the north-end station. I know the CFA has had a lot to do with that, but how do you counter a claim that Crookston’s fire department is too big and/or expensive?
How do you put a price tag on public safety? How do you put a price on the reassurance to the parent of a UMC student, or anyone else, that is renting a home or apartment in town knowing that the property has been inspected to greatly reduce the chance of a fire or any other life safety issue? How do you put a price on the fire safety education that we teach the children of our community that will be lifelong lessons, not only for themselves, but their families? How do you put a price on knowing that a highly trained firefighter will be responding to your emergency call in minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? I would love for someone to give me a dollar amount of what a life or serious injury is really worth. As the firefighters and I have talked about many times, it is impossible to estimate how many fires, injuries, or deaths that we have been able to prevent with our education and inspection programs. That in my mind is priceless and I hope that our current city leaders and citizens will agree.
Is a fire department a brotherhood more than simply a place to work? Please explain.
It definitely is a brotherhood. When you spend 24 hours a day, 10 days a month together as the guys do, you get to know more about each other than maybe you would care to know. You eat, work, train, respond to calls, and stay in the same dorm area during your shift. It is possible that your work partner might know more about you than your family does. This also goes for the members of the Association as they spend many hours here each month. The way these guys like to joke around with each other, you would think they were brothers. But, when they are at an emergency scene, it turns to all seriousness and professionalism.
This is also true of the retirees, spouses and children of the fire department. They all end up making lifelong friends and will ALWAYS be a part of the Fire Department Family.
Maybe it’s partly due to social media and videos going viral, but it seems like firefighters and other emergency responders are getting a lot of love these days. Do you embrace the “hero” label, or do you think firefighters are simply doing their job?
I have been here for over 23 years and have interviewed a lot of candidates that wanted to be a firefighter. I know that I have never seen on a job application that on the question”why do you want to be a firefighter?”, I have never seen, “I want to be a hero”. The most common answer is that “I want to serve my community”. I believe this is true of all of our firefighters. At first it might be the big red trucks, the cool equipment, the training you receive, the adrenaline rush you get when the pager goes off, but it does not take long to realize the difference that you made after the emergency call is done. You just made someone's worst day just a lot better. It could be saving someone's worldly possessions from a house fire, helping them out at a car accident, or getting a child's pet cat out of a tree. It all made a difference in that person's life.
I don’t think firemen or anyone else in emergency services would consider themselves heroes. We are not “bulletproof ''. We have hearts and feelings and we see, do and work in conditions that can and have everlasting effects on our physical, medical, and mental health. All that we want is to be able to do our job, be respected for what we do, and an occasional “Thank You” for the sacrifices that we endure.
Do you have any skills and/or hobbies that are particularly quirky or unusual that might surprise people to know about?
I really like to do woodworking. I often ask my wife to find me projects to build and she does not disappoint. She will give me a picture of an item that she would like for the house or the yard and I will build it. She also has a very “crafty” side to her and we enjoy working on projects together.
I am also a big baseball fan and I have a quest to visit all of the Major League Ballparks. I do this with my brothers and brother-in-laws in honor of my dad who was also a big baseball fan. We don’t have that many stadiums left to visit and we will also work in several minor league ballparks in our travels.
Let’s try a you’re-stranded-on-a-deserted-island question: You have an amazing home theater and audio system and somehow have all of the electrical power you could ever need. But you can only play three songs and watch three movies. Which three songs and which three movies do you pick?
“Where Were You” - Alan Jackson, “The Greatest” - Kenny Rogers, and about anything by Pink Floyd.
“Forrest Gump”, “Blues Brothers”, and “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”
I’m not asking you to list your heroes, since that term is a bit too casually tossed around these days, but could you list three people you look up to and/or admire, and explain why?
Don and Virginia Froeber (my parents). These two amazing people were able to raise nine children on a very modest income. We always had food on the table and clothes on our backs due to sacrifices that they took. Even with small children in the home, they seemed to be able to attend almost every sporting event that we were in and always made time to provide a clean and safe home for us to live in. It was the house that all of our friends wanted to hang out at as they were always welcome. It was not unusual to have a couple extra mouths to feed at meal time as our friends just wanted to hang out a little longer. They always had positive attitudes, even when things were not always going smoothly. Because of them, my siblings and I enjoy getting together several times a year.
Brenda Froeber (my wife) - She is my “Rock Star ''. She did an amazing job raising our two kids while I was away working 24 shifts at the fire department, all while holding down a fulltime job herself. A lot of people do not know the trials and tribulations there are being married to a fireman, whether they are Career, Paid on Call, or Volunteer. There is always the uncertainty of when we will be called out on a fire call or when we will get back home after getting all of the equipment back together, ready for the next call. Our spouses end up taking care of the kids, eating alone, sleeping alone, or missing a date night. My wife has always been there through all of this and that is why she is my “Hero”.
Please describe yourself using no more than 10 words.
A very dedicated husband, dad, and servant of the community.