John Burrow never thought he would be in a leadership role with a fire department. In fact, 13 years ago, he applied to be a part-time firefighter in Savage, and didn’t make the cut.
But Burrow didn’t give up. Instead, he went to Hennepin Tech and completed fire protection coursework. When he applied again, he got a spot on the roster.
Now he is one of the faces of the department, recently being named the first-ever fire marshal for the Savage Fire Department. His promotion from captain to assistant chief and fire marshal became official on April 24 following a vote by the city council.
A swimmer from the time he was eight until he was in college, he said he missed the team aspect and wanted to join one.
“I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself and I will tell you what, the fire service has filled that role, 100%,” Burrow said.
Burrow said he moved from southern California to the Midwest when he went to the University of North Dakota. It’s where he met his wife, a Prior Lake native.
Following college, he moved to Prior Lake, and about 13 years ago they moved to Savage.
From the conference room of the O’Connell Ave Fire Station, Fire Chief Jeremie Bresnahan, said it takes a particular person to be a fire marshal.
“You need a very unique person,” Bresnahan said.
During the first round of applications, Bresnahan said there wasn’t a standout candidate.
He and Assistant Chief Kathy Peil decided to take a different approach. The two watched how their captains operate on a daily basis decided that with Burrow’s background, he would be the right choice despite him not originally applying.
“‘We believe you are the person for the position.’ Right place, right time and the right person and John fit it,” Bresnahan said.
Burrow’s journey of becoming a fire department leader isn’t typical.
When Burrow originally applied to be a firefighter, he was running the aquatic center at Dakotah! Sport and Fitness. Before that, he worked as a restaurant manager.
Bresnahan said it was Burrow’s record of being able to develop and execute programs, along with his time working on public education as captain, that led to Burrow being picked.
“We have a diamond in the rough. Let’s give John the opportunity to take his skill sets and grow this thing,” Bresnahan said.
Bresnahan said the city council has been supportive of the efforts of the fire department. He said adding a fire marshal is something the council has thought about for a while. This year, the city council agreed to add the position.
“The city council is looking at increased investments in prevention, not just response and organization, and the addition of John in fulfilling that role is exactly what council is doing,” Bresnahan said.
While most people think of fire marshals as someone in attendance at venues making sure it isn’t over capacity, Bresnahan said the department is going to take an educational approach.
One of the areas Burrow pointed to is having life safety visits more readily available. He said the visits would be voluntary for businesses to have the department check their alarm system and to address any safety problems. He said alarm systems are supposed to be checked annually, but not all business owners realize it.
“There’s going to be a lot of benefits by being out in the community and talking to businesses about their systems,” Burrow said.
Bresnahan said the goal of the visits isn’t to impose fines or sanctions on businesses but to instead help them.
While working as a captain within the department, Burrow has had a focus on teaching fire safety in the schools. It was something he was accustomed to from his time at the aquatic center.
“I was used to being around kids, helping kids,” Burrow said.
Burrow hopes to be able to expand teaching the public and youth about fire safety. He said there is now a form on the city’s website for places like schools, daycares or other entities to request a visit from the fire department.
As the educational component of the department grows, Burrow’s aid there could create more opportunities to expand.
“Maybe we start programs in house that will bring kids to us and help teach fire safety,” Burrow said.
In addition, Burrow said he would be launching a program to get every city employee trained on CPR and AED. Bresnahan said from his perspective it’s another way for the department to help the community because if someone needs help inside a city building or at an event someone is there to help.
Bresnahan described the department as being data driven, and because of it are able to identify what kind of calls they are seeing more of.
With the data, Bresnahan said the department is able to try to mitigate calls through things like education.
For example, Bresnahan said one area the department hopes to address is for the elderly population. He said oftentimes the department sees things like burns from cooking or slips, trips and falls. While Burrow and others hope to address these areas through public education, one of the specific ways Bresnahan pointed to for better outcomes is by the public having their health information available.
“Having their medications, their allergies to medications, and recent medical history in a way that’s available to our responders so we can expedite care and have better patient outcomes,” Bresnahan said.
Burrow said he would also be receiving life safety schemes going forward for new proposed developments or redevelopments. Bresnahan said since there is a limited amount of available space in Savage it becomes an added challenge because many of the projects being proposed are redevelopments. Making sure there are proper safety measures in place is critical, he said.
While Bresnahan said it’s hard to quantify success with the new position he said one of the goals is to see a large number of life safety inspections being requested.
“That’s the community driving that, not us forcing it,” Bresnahan said.
During the height of the pandemic, the federal government approved American Rescue Plan Act funds to government entities across the country to address economic recovery from the pandemic. Savage received an allocation of $3.53 million.
While the vast majority of the funds were previously allocated, the Savage City Council agreed how the rest of the money would be allocated during its April 17 meeting.
As of the beginning of 2023, Savage had $261,560 of its ARPA funds remaining and available for reallocation. The city also has more than $2.9 million in ARPA money earmarked for projects, but some of those funds can be redistributed to other priorities.
The library expansion project in one such use of the remaining ARPA funds. City Administrator Brad Larson said the library building is owned by the city; however, services are provided by the county. It is also being used by several other community groups and the public, which led the city to do an evaluation in 2021 of how the space could be better utilized. The recommendation was to have a small expansion of the front meeting room. A Family Resource Center is also expected to be added to the space.
Larson said the city had $236,795 left over from projects that came in under budget going towards the library project, in addition to the almost three-quarters of a million dollars already allocated towards it.
“We originally budgeted $730,000 for this project, but this estimate is from 2021, and is likely too low now,” Larson said. “We are in the process of getting estimates for the project.”
In addition, the city council also decided to redistribute $800,000 dedicated towards home improvement loans. Instead, $500,000 will be going towards affordable housing projects and $300,000 will be going toward adding security fencing at the police station.
The affordable housing project would be part of a joint effort with the Scott County Community Development Agency.
“We’ve been talking to the CDA and we believe they would be able to do a project that would generate more affordable housing units than what was previously discussed in 2021,” Larson said.
One project immediately completed with ARPA funds was hiring a public engagement coordinator and purchasing an online engagement platform to see where residents thought ARPA funds should go. That cost the city $20,799.
About 5% of the total funds were allocated towards the city’s response to the pandemic.
“These funds were used to help mitigate COVID at city facilities, including the purchase of personal protection equipment, testing and staff time required to respond to COVID,” Larson said. He noted there is about $24,765 remaining from that allocation that hasn’t been spent and can be reallocated elsewhere.
The city also allocated $152,000 toward grants designed to assist businesses who were impacted by the pandemic.
“In total, 38 applications were received and 14 of those were funded,” Larson said. “The city spent a total of $113,049 on the program, leaving $39,451 to be reallocated toward a different project.”
Due to the pandemic, the Savage Sports Center was forced to be shut down, temporarily causing a loss of $250,000 in revenues. The city used ARPA funds to reimburse the center for the lost revenue, Larson said.
Projects in progressTwo projects currently in progress are addressing the mental health crisis.
One of the projects was giving $80,000 to assist the Park Nicollet Foundation to provide mental health services to the Savage community. When all is said and done, Larson said it’s expected the full $80,000 will be spent. The city also allocated $3,500 to partner with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to provide free mental health classes to the public.
The city council also earmarked $950,000 to reuse storm water to irrigate Community Park.
“City staff has spent $12,299 on preliminary design to make sure the system can work as planned,” Larson said in a memo to the city council. “The engineer’s estimate has this project at the budgeted amount.”
Larson said the administration is recommending soliciting bids for the project and then making a decision on whether to go forward or not based on the bid amounts.