During his daily press
briefings, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has made some bold statements about the expectations
of Minnesota being a leader in the national fight against COVID-19. He has
promoted aggressive timelines to get things done and sweeping initiatives that
have changed the landscape of Minnesota over the last two months.
But, a decree made last
Friday caught a lot of fire departments by surprise. At his April 17 briefing,
Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan launched a statewide homemade mask drive
for Minnesotans to donate in honor of those workers on the frontlines of the
The initiative gave
Minnesotans one week to make as many homemade masks as possible and designated
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 25 as the delivery date for the masks with
drop-off locations with your local fire department.
There was only one problem
with that. Nobody informed the fire chiefs in advance that they were going to
be the boots on the ground in this effort.
Eric Bullen, the fire chief
of the Albertville Fire Department, president of the Wright County Fire Chiefs
Association and a region representative for the Minnesota Fire Chiefs
Association is in the loop about as much as any fire chief in the state and,
while given a brief forewarning, he was unaware of exactly what was coming when
the directive came down.
“The first I heard of
anything was an email I got on Wednesday or Thursday of last week telling us to
pay attention to the governor’s press conference on Friday for big news
coming,” Bullen said. “That was all we knew until Friday when he gave his press
conference. We had no head’s up. We had no idea this drive was going to happen
and that it was going to involve us.”
Monticello Fire Chief Mike
Mossey echoed Bullen’s sentiment, saying many of the Wright County fire chiefs
were caught off-guard that they would be in charge of mask collection.
“I had no idea this was
coming,” Mossey said. “I gather that was the same reaction from a lot of the
county chiefs. The Wright County Fire Chiefs Association put out an email
saying, ‘Who is partaking in this?’ We were all kind of surprised by it. There
was no planning or input on it – at least not locally. Maybe on a grand scale
there was. I’m not opposed to it, but it’s kind of weird to volunteer us for it
and we’re all like, ‘What?’”
How different fire
departments – many of them volunteer departments – handle the method of
collection will vary from one department to another. Each was put in the
position of coming up with its own game plan.
Mossey said he had a couple
of firefighters volunteer to man the drop-off location, but he was hesitant to
put his crew out mingling with the public when there is still stay at home and
social distancing orders in place. He said the likely option will be a bin
placed at the entrance to the fire hall and collect the masks that way.
As part of the governor’s
initiative, fire chiefs were told they can determine the best method to
distribute the masks, which was yet another surprise that the chiefs hadn’t
“At this point, we’re not
sure where the masks are going to go and who will be managing it,” Mossey said.
“I’m sure we’ll figure something out because it is a good thing to get masks to
those who need them, but we were pulled into this before any of us knew about
Bullen said his department is
fortunate in that it has a senior care facility in Albertville that is an ideal
landing spots for masks brought to his station. He is encouraging people to do
their part for the community because there is a need in town for them to be
“We’re fortunate here in that
we have the Guardian Angels Engel Haus that has said they have residents in
need of masks,” Bullen said. “At this point, we have no idea how many are going
to come in, but we will reach out to the county’s emergency management director
if we end up with more than Guardian Angels needs.”
The idea of having
Minnesotans help their neighbors is nothing new. In times of crisis, we have a
history of coming together for the common good and helping those in need.
The method of delivery of the
governor’s mask initiative, however, left something to be desired. Local fire
departments are dealing with their own concerns – both as a department and
under the cloud of COVID-19. But, as they typically do, the local fire
departments will find a way to make good on Gov. Walz’s plan.
“It was a big decree with
some rules that not a whole lot of people were prepared for,” Bullen said. “For
the departments, each one will have its own plan. I had four guys volunteer
pretty quickly to cover that time, so we’re covered. There’s a need. I don’t
necessarily like directives from above, especially when they put it on the
local people to do the work with no warning, but it will work out on our end.
The good thing is that it’s going to congregate care facilities that need them and
we’ll do our part.”