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Volunteer Minn. FD resumes first response service after PPE donations

Stewartville Fire and Rescue had suspended its first response service earlier this month to preserve PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic


Emily Cutts

STEWARTVILLE, Minn. — After a three-week halt to its first response service, Stewartville Fire and Rescue announced its return earlier this week with the help of community donations and local businesses.

On Monday morning, the department posted on its Facebook page that the volunteers who make up the department would once again resume first response service.

“Going back into service was a huge relief,” Stewartville Fire Chief R. Vance Swisher said Thursday. “The coordination among services was phenomenal and the support of the community while we were out of service, and to get back in service as quickly as possible, was greatly appreciated.”

The service had been put on hold after the department didn’t have an adequate amount of personal protective equipment to respond to the calls.

“It wasn’t something that we really wanted to stop doing, the first response. All our members get on to the fire department, the first response unit, to be available to provide service to their fellow citizens,” Swisher said.

During those three weeks, Swisher said every time members of the department heard an ambulance in town, it created frustration and stress knowing they were not able to be there for residents.

First response service brings first responders and emergency medical technicians from Stewartville’s department to medical calls to stabilize a patient before an ambulance arrives on scene. The department typically responds to 30 to 45 of those calls a month, Swisher said earlier this month.

Between Monday morning and Thursday afternoon, the department responded to three first response calls, according to Swisher.

Donations of PPE came in from department members, local businesses, neighboring counties and with the help of a state senator.

Sen. Carla Nelson first learned of the department’s need for PPE from the Stewartville mayor and city administrator during a Zoom call. She said she was alarmed to hear the news. She reached out to a Rochester friend who part of the Pandemic Responders Group. The group was able to help secure 700 masks to donate.

“It’s about saving lives. It’s about safety,” Nelson said.

The pause in service also allowed Stewartville first responders to learn new protocols and procedures for emergency response in the time of COVID-19.

“It’s been a big change,” Swisher said. “COVID-19 has changed everything. It’s even changed the way we do our training and the way that we do our meetings.”

Now back in service, Swisher said plans are in place to continue to provide it without further interruption.


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