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It’s been a busy spring for the Minot Fire Department.
Besides the usual fires, medical calls, and non-stop training, there have been significant changes to the organization’s overall structure.
Assistant Chief Lonnie Sather is retiring as of May 23, but instead of promoting a new assistant chief, Fire Chief Kelli Kronschnabel is reorganizing the administration of the department.
“We’re so young as an operation. In 2009-2010, we lost a lot of mid-level people when the oil boom was starting, and we’re seeing the effects of those losses now,” she said.
The exodus of so many experienced firefighters created a void that is affecting how many applicants are available to test for promotions to captain and battalion chief.
So, the chief said, they decided to “flatten” the department.
“We’re creating two battalion chief positions instead of filling the assistant chief’s position,” she said. “I don’t know what we’ll look like down the road; maybe another chief will come in and want that assistant chief position back. But for us, at this point, we feel this is the best way to move forward.”
Instead of a chief, assistant chief, and three battalion chiefs, there will now be a chief and five battalion chiefs at the top of the department.
Captains Austin Burns and Brent Weber will be promoted to battalion chief in mid-June, joining Mason Maxwell, Glen Hardy, and Jason Babinchak at that rank. Maxwell, Hardy and Burns will remain working with crews on the trucks, while Babinchak and Weber will take over many duties of the former assistant chief’s position, along with additional responsibilities.
“It’s a huge transition to come off shift and become part of administration. It’s night and day what a battalion chief does on shift and what an administration person does,” Kronschnabel said.
She said the department will take advantage of the unique skills of Babinchak and Weber not only in their new administrative roles, but also in organizing specialized teams within the department.
“Jason has a technical rescue background, and Brent has great experience with hazardous materials, so we plan to have them work together putting those teams together with more formal structure,” Kronschnabel said. “We’ll also rely on them to write policies and formalize training in their areas of specialty. We want to keep them invested with the crews, because you don’t want to lose touch when you’re in administration.”
Capt. Devin Walter, the department’s current training captain, will remain in that role until December during the transition to five battalion chiefs. In addition, 11 of the department’s 15 officers will move to different shifts in a move that Kronschnabel said will create a more balanced force.