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.
The right fit
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.
Education not enforcement
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.