What’s up with the Northfield Fire Department?

In Saturday’s Nfld News: Firefighters want to air concerns to Northfield council

Nfld Fire Dept letter to councilIn a Dec. 28 letter, 27 of the department’s 32 firefighters asked that the City Council schedule a work session “to discuss improvement to the road map for the Fire Department, specifically the selection or election of the fire chief and appointment of officers and the new fire hall.”

Northfield Fire Chief Gerry Franek said last week that he believes a meeting with the council will alleviate some of the firefighters’ concerns. In meetings with the city’s administrator and public safety director, who oversees the Fire Department, several firefighters have voiced their unhappiness with proposed changes the city plans to make when choosing a fire chief…

The mayor also prefers to honor the established chain of command, and continue communicating through the city’ administrator, public safety director and fire chief.

I’m way behind on understanding all the issues with the Fire Department, going back to early last year when an OSHA inspection raised issues and a subsequent report by a consultant cited criticisms.

It’s an odd request for nearly an entire department (27 people) to want to meet directly with the City Council, seemingly without the involvement of their supervisor, in this case, Public Safety Director Mark Taylor. Imagine if all the public works employees made a similar request, going around their supervisor.  Something’s amiss here and I don’t understand what it is.

201 comments to  (Including 47 Discussion Threads) What’s up with the Northfield Fire Department?

  • 51
    Griff Wigley says:

    I’m hearing rumblings.

    The MN Dept of Public Safety has a 2010 document titled A Blueprint for Shared Services by the Governor’s Fire and Rescue Shared Services Task Force.

    On pages 28-30, the Isanti Fire District‘s story is profiled. Why do I mention this?

    It has some parallels to the current situation between the City of Northfield and the Rural Northfield Fire Protection District.  I’ve learned that the ongoing disagreements have some looking at a different way of doing things.

    ISANTI FIRE DISTRICT (FIRE DISTRICT BY JOINT POWERS AGREEMENT)

    Objective: Find a way to keep one department from splitting into two, or more.

    Players

    Athens Township
    Bradford Township
    Isanti Township
    Oxford Township
    Spencer Brook Township
    Standford Township
    City of Isanti

    Result

    Joint Powers agreement signed to pass district power over to a board of representatives, rather than full city control.

    Date Effective -- January 1, 2006

    Summary

    During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the local townships in Isanti County were growing increasingly frustrated by their lack of control and input into the department budget, which was maintained by the city. Several of the townships were threatening to pull out of the funding and begin their own departments. They formed an advisory board to consult and recommend changes that would allow the department to stay as one cohesive unit. Eventually the board began maintaining the department budget. By January of 2006, the participating groups created a formal joint powers agreement to make the exchange of control official.

    Specifics

    Townships in Isanti County and the City of Isanti were at odds. Townships were “fed up” and wanted to start their own department without city involvement. It became a case of one department trying not to be divided into two as fear grew that separation would create two or more deficient departments rather than one “good” one.

    Jan 1, 1989

    Advisory board formed to discuss recent developments (one member from each township and one from the City of Isanti). Reasons for townships seeking a different model/relationship with city of Isanti:

    • The city was over charging fees to the townships
    • The city looked at the total FD budget and charged them 20% across the board
      regardless of use
    • Obtaining accurate budget information from the city was “Challenging”: City claimed the JPA was out of funds while FD books showed otherwise; Upon challenging the numbers, the City issued a check for the missing amount back to the JPA board’s account.
    • Townships were buying equipment, but had no legal ownership despite paying the majority of the cost –The city owned the titles to the equipment
    • No fiscal input – The city would determine budget and later present it to the townships at the annual meeting

    Cooler heads prevailed, and on Jan 1, 2006 – The board entered a joint powers agreement to officially take control of the money

    Positive outcomes from JPA

    • Built substations to help shoulder load and cut expenses to support rural areas in a county covering 170 square miles
    • Second new substation coming in Spring, 2010
    • New substations raised safety ratings, and many nearby citizens saw insurance
      deductions of $400-1,000 each
    • District gained more control over their money and now have over $600,000 in cash
      assets (putting into the new substation)
    • Huge increase in morale – fire fighters feel less like a number and more like a valuable
      asset to the community
    • Increased overall equipment condition
    • Administration expenses went way down – only wrote 214 checks (not counting payroll)
    • Added full-time firefighter/administrator position

    Negative outcomes from JPA

    • Townships like to micro-manage
    • Everybody’s an “expert” and the meetings get off-task or bogged down in details
    • Slow moving process – with monthly meetings, the group must plan in advance to act on quickly moving grants
    • Quorum can be difficult – 5 special meetings called just to pay the bills because of noshows

    Unique Items

    The Isanti Fire District holds an annual rodeo to help raise funding for the district. Over the past 33 years, the rodeo event has raised $1.2M for the enhancement of fire protection in the Isanti area.

    Lessons Learned

    Isanti County’s population (40,000) seems to call for a full-time fire chief

    Fire departments too often try to be everything to everyone, but need to do a better job of cooperating and specializing

    City pushing for development of a self-taxing district

    • 51.1
      kiffi summa says:

      So what conclusions do you draw from the above, Griff? or what recommendations that are drawn from the above and are pertinent to the NF situation?

    • 51.2
      Griff Wigley says:

      I don’t have any conclusions yet, Kiffi. But these joint powers agreements are evidently tricky, as the Dept of Public Safety has several feasibilities studies posted on its website in the documents library, eg:

      Stillwater, Lake Elmo, Mahtomedi

      Cloquet

      Evidently, some members of the Rural Northfield Fire Protection District don’t like the current arrangement of paying Northfield for services and buying equipment for Northfield to use.

      So one option would be to form a new joint powers agreement in which the City of Northfield is a member. I can’t see Northfield agreeing to that unless their representation was proportionate to their size.

      • 51.2.1
        kiffi summa says:

        I must be wrong… but I have never heard of our arrangement with Rural Fire referred to as a “Joint Powers agreement”.

        A clear example of a JPA is the Pearl Street/ Owatonna/911 emergency structure.

        I would think if there is a JPA in the Rural Fire structure , it would be between the Townships that are covered, and then the Rural Fire Assn. would have a direct contract with Northfield.

        Can you straighten me out on this, Griff?

    • 51.3
      Griff Wigley says:

      Kiffi, I didn’t mean to imply that Northfield was currently part of any JPA, only that people were discussing the possibilities. The Rural Fire Assoc. is currently a JPA.

  • 52

    Kiffi and Griff -- there is not a joint powers agreement now. The rural fire association and Dundas have contracts for fire service with the city and other agreements about equipment.

    In thinking about how to move ahead on the safety center facility, the city needs to consider what “partners” means in legal terms. We could form a joint powers board for fire which would provide representation for Dundas, rural fire and Northfield and spell out responsibilities, cost sharing etc. Or, we could stick with the contract for services model and continue to try to determine how capital cost contributions will be made and equipment will be purchased and updated.

    • 52.1
      Griff Wigley says:

      Betsey,

      The Office of the State Auditor’s letter to Jerry Anderson starts out:

      Thank you for discussing with me the legal status of the Northfield Rural Fire Association. Specifically, you provided the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) with a copy of the March 8, 1994, Joint Powers Agreement Creating The Northfield Rural Fire Protection District (“Fire District’), and the June 1, 2003, Amendment to the Agreement. It is our understanding that the Northfield Rural Fire Association is another name for the joint powers entity created by the Joint Powers Agreement.

      and then ends with:

      In addition, the Agreement states that the Northfield Rural Fire Department is a non-profit corporation, rather than a joint powers entity. Updating the contract provisions will help clarify the responsibilities of both parties and may minimize later disputes.

  • 53
    Griff Wigley says:

    On page 38 of the packet for next week’s February 28 Council meeting:

    To: Mayor and City Council

    From: Tim Madigan, City Administrator

    Subject: Fire Department Update

    Mark Taylor will do a short update on the Fire Department committee process and Mark, Mayor Rossing and I will give a short update on the Rural Fire Agreement.

    Attached is a report from Mark on the committees and a letter to the Rural Fire Association from the State Auditor’s Office requesting Rural Fire address certain financial management issues in their operations and update their agreement with the City.

    • 53.1
      Griff Wigley says:

      It looks like the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) has issued a bit of a spanking to Jerry Anderson. Excerpts from the letter to him (starting on P. 41 of the packet):

      This letter will provide the Fire District with recommendations to improve its internal controls over Fire District funds and to bring the Fire District into compliance with Minnesota law.

      More than one signature is required on checks issued by either Minnesota cities or towns… You informed us, however, that only one signature is currently required on Fire District checks…

      It is the OSA’s understanding that the Fire District has not been audited by an outside auditor, has not filed reporting forms with the OSA, and has not been included as a component unit in the financial reports ofone of the parties to the Agreement! The OSA recommends that the Fire District handle its funds in the same manner as Minnesota cities ‘and towns, to the extent practicable, as required by Minnesota law…

      Finally, we discussed the need to update the Fire District’ s agreement with the City of Northfield. The Reciprocal Fire Service Agreement from June 1983 does not appear to accurately reflect the current relationship between the City and the Fire District, as you have described that relationship to the OSA. In addition, the Agreement states that the Northfield Rural Fire Department is a non-profit corporation, rather than a joint powers entity. Updating the contract provisions will help clarify the responsibilities of both parties and may minimize later disputes.

    • 53.2
      kiffi summa says:

      Griff … the next question to be answered here is : who requested that the State Auditor’s office evaluate and then write a letter asking the Rural Fire to “address certain management issues”.

      The State Auditor’s office does not just go around looking for issues that need to be “addressed”; they respond to requests from local gov’t units who ask them for advice/help, etc.

      So… 1. what was the nature of the problem that the Auditor’s office was asked about,?
      2. who made the request to the Auditor’s office ? , and
      3. Is there a copy of the letter from the requesting ‘entity’ ?

      I hope some councilors will ask those questions, and also insist on seeing the letter sent to the Auditor’s office.
      It may be all in good faith toward restructuring the Fire Dept as the ‘City’ wants to do, or it may be a whole lot of ‘positioning’, of which there has already been an excess.

      There are either, IMO, an awful lot of unknowns here, or a lot of what I can find no better word for than ‘positioning’, which is meant to create perceptions, which then drive outcomes.

      On the surface we have been allowed to see, this is a rather monumental power struggle that is completely disproportionate to the framework of NF’s fire services, especially if as Jane Moline and others keep saying: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

      • 53.2.1
        kiffi summa says:

        Griff; I was replying ( in 53.2) to your comment #53; #53.1 had not yet come up.

        So that answers some of my questions, i.e. the letter to the State Auditor’s Office was from Jerry Anderson to the SAO, and their reply was to him.

        That creates a whole different set of questions, but since you excerpted their reply , that needs to be read in its entirety.

        Have to do that tomorrow; too late to bother with the City’s website tonight…

    • 53.3
      Griff Wigley says:

      Kiffi,

      It seems that several (four?) Northfield City Administrators and the various Northfield Councils have been trying to update the agreement with the Rural Fire District for years, to no avail. I don’t understand why it hasn’t happened but I’m starting to wonder: might Jerry himself be the problem?

      But regardless, I don’t see how the City’s problems with Rural Fire relate to its effort to restructure the Fire Dept.

      • 53.3.1
        kiffi summa says:

        Griff: Could you please explain the background for your first sentence in #53.3? I had been a LWV observer for at least 6 years and the RFD agreement was never a huge focus, although it did come up from time to time.

        The way the two departments are related is that much of the RFD equip is housed at the NF fire hall, and indeed, it is always said that their primary truck is the first one out on any call to the NF fire dept.

      • 53.3.2
        Griff Wigley says:

        Kiffi, here’s one that goes back to 2009:

        The Northfield Ad Hoc Finance Group report in Nov. 2010, Exhibit 3, starting on page 10 of the (packet PDF). It includes copies of the memos from Joel Walinski to Jerry Anderson.

        Recommendation: The City should renegotiate the agreement with the Rural Fire Department.

        The Ad Hoc Finance Group has reviewed the work started by staff and supports the implementation of a new agreement based upon the League of Minnesota Cities document as a guideline and operational expense allocation as outlined in the 11-6-2009 memo Walinksi to Anderson.

      • 53.3.3
        kiffi summa says:

        Griff: I think you are dealing with ‘wants’, not necessarily ‘imperatives’.

        2009 was already in the time of LGA cuts, and the ‘city’ was looking for $$$ (justifiably) in every possible corner.

        Whether or not the RFD agreement with NF has to be negotiated depends not on whether one party wants to, or even what the League of MN Cities recommends… but on the terms of the agreement as to how long it is in force.

    • 53.4
      Griff Wigley says:

      Today’s Nfld News: Auditor’s office wants changes to Northfield fire agreement, procedures

      The state auditor’s office is urging the Northfield Rural Fire Association to renegotiate its decades-old agreement with the city.

      But while revisions to the agreement have been discussed on and off for more than a decade, more recent conversations seem to be stalled over its term.

      Northfield Administrator Tim Madigan characterized the negotiations as fruitful, but association administrator Jerry Anderson said Monday that the association is unwilling to accept the five-year term the city has proposed.

  • 54
    kiffi summa says:

    The council work session tonight will be dealing with the problem of a new safety center…
    Several points of discussion have been framed by staff.

    People can watch this discussion live- streamed on KYMN.

    • 54.1
      Phil Poyner says:

      Thanks for the heads-up.

    • 54.2
      Griff Wigley says:

      Councilor Betsey Buckheit has a blog post about tonight’s meeting: Safety Center decision making. Note her thinking about Rural Fire and a JPA:

      The Council is scheduled to receive an update on our partners tonight. I’m eager for this update since the Council hasn’t had much information about the details of negotiations, so my more cynical self thinks it looks like Northfield tries to see how much we can get our not entirely enthusiastic customers to pay without giving them a great deal of input on what they’re buying. So far, contract talks seem stalled.

      A bolder alternative strategy would be to create a regional fire district governed by a joint powers agreement for services, facilities and equipment? It would certainly clarify the relationship, support Northfield’s interest in regional solutions, and perhaps build in a more sustainable structure where all parties have a strong stake in helping the fire district succeed.

  • 55
    kiffi summa says:

    There will be no clean resolve to this matter of the firefighters, and the RFD/NF agreement until there is a public meeting , with Councilors there to hear the complaints, or whatever, of both sides.

    Hearing one side of the story from one group, and contradictory views of what actually happened, and statements made, from the ‘opposing’ side, only puts the Councilors in a very weird position.

    To my way of thinking the Council must have a work session with the firefighters, and with the RFD, so there is no confusion about what either ‘side’ says.

  • 56
    Griff Wigley says:

    Today’s Nfld News: Northfield firefighters: paid or volunteers?

    The auditor’s report and other city documents, requested by the Northfield News, call into question the firefighters’ volunteer status, a claim some Fire Department leaders have made in recent months.

    Officials have used the firefighters’ purported standing as volunteers to ask for special treatment, including requests that they continue to elect their own boss, the fire chief, and meet with the City Council to discuss issues concerning a plan to implement changes at the Fire Department.

    The Nfld News included a Word doc at the bottom of the article with the text:

    See how compensation for Northfield firefighters stacks up against other local departments by clicking on the attachment at the bottom of this story.

    Since many people don’t have the ability to read Word docs, I’ve made a screenshot of the chart and included it below:

  • 57
    Griff Wigley says:

    In today’s Strib South: Northfield firefighters are facing a shake-up

    The Northfield Volunteer Fire Department is on the hot seat. City officials have abolished its outdated bylaws and plan to appoint its part-time chief instead of letting firefighters elect their leader.

    The City Council is seeking to reverse more than a century of volunteer firefighters electing one of their own as chief. Once elected, they tend to stay a while — the city has had three chiefs since 1960. Trying to modernize a department founded in 1872, the council wants to appoint a chief as it does with police and other department heads.

    “We got a recommendation from a consultant and the League of Minnesota Cities that it was not appropriate for members [firefighters] to elect a fire chief,” City Administrator Tim Madigan said.

  • 58

    Not to long ago the Local paper had a full page picture of our Firefighters and th combined years of service : Just keep it the way it is : This posssible new policy (by consultants) sounds like to much micro-managing : Like Ron Paul says sometimes to much government is aliitle to much in this case I agree : Leave it alone our Local Firefighters do a great Job : Keep it the way it is : Remeber Northfield has one of the Best Firefighter groups in the state : Thanks : that is my two cents worth

  • 59
    Jane Moline says:

    The Strib article highlighted the foolishness of the city--they have to have a more expensive appointed chief becaues the consultant said so--what has worked extremely well for many years is not good enough.

    I loved the comment by Mayor Mary Rossing that the terrible OSHA violation was NOT that the coffee pot had only a two prong (vs. three prong grounded) plug but that the firemen did not have a procedures manual in case of an emergency! Glad they are working on that--in case of an emergency I would really want the firemen to look up the proper procedure before the SAVE ME AND MY HOUSE!

    Hope the city Safety Director has a procedure manual in place in case of an emergency--like a flood that destroys businesses. Oh, yeah, I guess it was the firemen who were right there helping out and even evaluating some of our downtown buildings to help us decide if we needed to move things for the flood--too bad they didn’t have a procedure manual to tell them to warn people of the problems with underground electrical transformers--oh yeah, I guess they did that without any manual and worked to cordon off the areas that might become dangerous, including talking to the public and warning them of why there was a problem. But heck, good thing we have consulatants to let us know everything we have been doing wrong for A HUNDRED YEARS.

    Good thing we can put procedures in place that will cost us more, make our fire department less efficient, and destroy morale--way to go, government.

  • 60
    Phil Poyner says:

    I happen to agree with the Mayor; the SOP write-up was the one thing in the OSHA report that got an “uh oh” response out of me. I’ve yet to run across an organization with poor or non-existent SOPs that didn’t also have poor training plans. Having SOPs doesn’t mean you break them out like some sort of checklist; it means you institutionalize “the way we do things”. People can joke about this all they want, but I’ve run technical units in emergency and hazardous circumstances and it would have been considered irresponsible of me to NOT develop SOPs for all practical eventualities…and not just the ones that happen regularly.

  • 61
    Jane Moline says:

    Phil: SOPs are important--but their absence has not been a disaster for the fire department. SOPs are a way of documenting historical and institutional memory--and they are an exercise for planning--but it is the actual historical memory and experience that informs actions. Just because a large organization needs SOPs to help guide them does not mean that a small organization is deficient just because they are not there.

    • 61.1

      RIGHT ON JANE !!!!!!!!

    • 61.2
      Phil Poyner says:

      Jane, the majority of my experience in writing SOPs has been with small units, and the need for them has more to do with the complexity and variation of tasks the unit is required to do than its size. Most people think firefighters put out fires, and maybe some rescue work, and that’s about it. But they are responsible for so much more than that. If there was a toxic spill, for example, the fire department is usually the lead agency in calculating dispersion zones in most emergency plans I’ve seen. There are dozens of other tasks, equally as complex as that one, that firefighters need to be able to accomplish even if they are not ones they commonly do. So, the lack of SOPs doesn’t cause me to worry about whether they can do the common; it makes me worry about how they will handle the uncommon. I’d say that both OSHA and the consultant saw this as a concern as well, or they wouldn’t have reported it. And again, if there is no documentation concerning how they do things now, then I am left to wonder about training plans for how they will do things in the future.

    • 61.3
      Jane Moline says:

      Phil--I am all for SOPs. I am saying that this is not a sign of major problems in our fire department--and look how they have handled a number of “uncommom” emergencies--the SOPs are only going to help, but their absence does not make a major deficiency in the management or ability of the department.

      • 61.3.1
        Phil Poyner says:

        Jane, and all I’m saying is that in my experience a lack of SOPs and training documentation IS a sign of major managerial deficiencies, at least when is comes to units with an emergency response role. Of course, not being an expert at firefighting itself, I’d want to know what experts have to say about whether lessons based on my experience even applies to this particular unit. From the two reports we’ve seen posted in this thread it would appear that people with expertise in this field are saying the answer is “yes”.

        But all this does raise another question, at least in my mind. Is there some sort of state-level certification process for local fire departments? You know, some sort of inspection process that ensures that fire departments are properly integrated into the emergency management system, following the latest in state-of-the-science procedures, abiding by all local, state, and federal regulations…that sort of thing?

      • 61.3.2
        Griff Wigley says:

        Phil, does the ISO report provide what you were wondering re: “some sort of state-level certification process for local fire departments”?

      • 61.3.3
        Phil Poyner says:

        Griff, not really…not that it wasn’t informative. The ISO report appears to be specifically written for the benefit of private insurers and those who pay premiums, and consequently doesn’t address many tasks fire-fighters find themselves doing under a number of other emergency scenarios. It still leaves me wondering if there are other inspections the Fire Department is routinely subjected to, or is the OSHA inspection supposed to be the “one” cities rely on to assess the health of their emergency management system.

  • 62
    Jane McWilliams says:

    I’ve learned about how firefighters work from reading Michael Perry’s Population 485! Seems to me, putting out fires is both art and science. It requires training, trust and teamwork. Seems to me that a good SOP would assure those three elements. Probably this is true with the other responsibilities you mention as well, Phil.

  • 63
    Griff Wigley says:

    Nfld News reporter Suzy Rook published a column last night: Going on offense

    Council members didn’t seem surprised Tuesday night when Mayor Mary Rossing announced that she’s heard rumors that the Northfield Rural Fire Department is looking to sever ties with the city.

    The city, it seems, it taking the rumors very seriously. The Public Safety Director even went so far as to get estimates on what the dissolution of the arrangement might cost the city. I’ve heard it was about $1 million.

    Last week, Rossing went on the offense, detailing for the council the last year of negotiations between city leaders and Rural Fire officials working to revise a 1970 agreement dictating firefighters’ pay and annual contributions.

    • 63.1
      Griff Wigley says:

      This is encouraging! According to Rook:

      Rural Fire Administrator Jerry Anderson last week told me that he had just gotten authorization to hire an attorney to help draw up a draft agreement

      .

    • 63.2
      Phil Poyner says:

      Would I be correct in concluding that this comment thread is now discussing two entirely independent issues? One would be the contractual relationship between the city of Northfield and the Northfield Rural Fire Department, and the other would be managerial and organizational structure issues within the City of Northfield Fire Department? Or is there an actual connection between the two?

      • 63.2.1
        kiffi summa says:

        Yes, Phil, I think you would be correct if you thought there was a ” …connection between the two”…
        You see, if one has listened to all the meetings available to the public, and participated in some of the broader task force meetings regarding a new SC, then it is quite obvious that there has been non-agreement from the beginning on the reorganization of the Public Safety Dept, and some of that decision making has ‘blooped’ over on to the needs, both operational and structural, of not only the Police/Fire, but of the building(s) which will house them.

        It is also true that NF depends heavily on the RFD connection; their truck, housed in NF,is the first one out on calls.

        And that is why , IMO, this will not ever be settled to anything approximating satisfaction on both sides, until there is a public meeting between the Council, the Upper Management staff, the police and firemen; and things get sorted out in some very frank conversation where differing ‘facts’ can be challenged, and differing opinions respectfully discussed.

        The three firemen, including the asst. Chief, who came to the Council meeting last Monday and spoke, is a tiny beginning , but only that. It was said by a council member at that meeting that the Fire Chief, Gary Franek had “voted” for certain sites at the task force meetings; well maybe he did that under some other venue, but at the task force meetings I attended, there were not votes; there was the Mayor’s conclusion of “consensus”… and it was quite obvious sometimes that there was not consensus, but just non-expression of views, for whatever reason.

        There simply must be a big broad discussion between all the involved parties.

    • 63.3
      Griff Wigley says:

      Phil, I think you’ve identified the two issues correctly, though let’s refer to the rural entity as the Rural Northfield Fire Protection District to avoid confusion. Short version: Rural Fire District?

      I think the connection on the two issues in our discussions here has evolved in part because Jerry Anderson, admin for the Rural Fire District, has inserted himself in the organizational struggle between the Northfield Fire Relief Association (the Nfld firefighters) and the City of Northfield.

      • 63.3.1
        kiffi summa says:

        Griff: I think your terminology re: jerry Anderson’s involvement is unfortunate… he is , after all, the administrator (exact title?) for the RFD, and there is extensive overlap in both personnel and the equipment between NF and the RFD.

        We (NF) depend heavily, very heavily, on their primary truck and their personnel.

        *** Ask this question: If the RFD decided that they would no longer participate in NF’s fire defense, but operate only in service to Dundas and the townships, what would the cost to NF be to provide the same protection that has been available through the collaboration?

        If that has been asked, I do not believe it has been answered…

        It may be that there are statutes that make NF somewhat responsible to provide some fire service for its non-municipal surrounds (the townships), and therefor it is imperative to work on an agreement that is satisfactory to all; I have no firm knowledge of the legalities or statutory requirements.

      • 63.3.2
        Griff Wigley says:

        Kiffi, why should Jerry be the PR guy for the firefighters? He’s an administrator. And now with the ISO report out, I think he should be asking hard questions on why the training credit rating is so low. He can’t do that while being the firefighters’ booster/defender.

      • 63.3.3
        Phil Poyner says:

        I appreciate that, in peoples minds, these two issues may have become intertwined. But my question is:
        - If I resolved the NFD issues, either by change or by maintenance of the status quo, would it have any affect on the contractual agreement between the City of Northfield and the Rural Fire District?
        - If I resolved the issues surrounding negotiations between city leaders and Rural Fire District officials, would it have any affect on the questions surrounding the organization of the NFD?

        If the answer is “no”, then they should be solved separately…regardless of whether personnel from one entity expresses opinions about the other. My concern is that by merging the two problems people may conclude that solving one or the other may fix everything.

        As an aside, does anyone have a quicky answer regarding how the Rural Fire District and City Of Northfield Fire Department get funded? I take it they are different sources, at least in part?

      • 63.3.4
        Griff Wigley says:

        Phil, I think you’re correct, the two issues are really separate in terms of what needs to be done to solve them both. Thanks for helping to clarify that.

        As for funding, my understanding is that the people of Bridgewater, Forest, Sciota, Waterford, Greenvale, & Northfield townships plus the cities of Dundas and Dennison pay taxes to have a Rural Fire District.

        Likewise, Northfield taxpayers pay for the NFD (including salaries and pensions), but of course, the Rural Fire District contracts with the City of Nfld for its fire services so there’s ‘income’ there.

        Also in the mix: income from the Fire Association fundraising and gambling operations. It’s not clear to me yet what that money’s used for.

      • 63.3.5
        Phil Poyner says:

        Are there any federal or state level sources of funding, either steady-state or in the form of grants, for either organization?

      • 63.3.6
        kiffi summa says:

        Really, Griff… would you say the same about City Administrator, Tim Madigan?
        Isn’t he the City’s “booster/defender” ?

  • 64
    Griff Wigley says:

    Here’s ISO’s Feb. 27 Public Protection Classification (PPC) report on the Northfield Fire Department.

    ISO Cover Letter_Public Protection Classification Summary (2 page photocopied PDF)

    Public Protection Classification Summary Report _Jan 2012 (39 page photocopied PDF)

    • 64.1
      Griff Wigley says:

      My summary: the NFD has retained its overall Class Rank of 4 on the 10 point scale (0=perfect, 10=bad), so that’s good news.

      Of the 3 main components that make up the report (page 8):

      Receiving and handling alarms: 9.42 points of 10 possible

      Water supply: 36.28 points of a possible 40

      Fire department: 25.96 points of a possible 50.

      And of the 8 items that comprise the Fire Department scoring:

      Credit for company personnel (“the average number of existing firefighters and company officers available to respond to reported first alarm structure fires in the city”): 3.15 points of a possible 15

      Credit for training (“This item evaluates training facilities and aids and the use made of them by the fire suppression force; company training at fire stations; classes for officers; driver and operator training; new driver and operator training; hazardous materials training; recruit training; the pre-fire planning inspection program; and the training and inspection records. A maximum of 35% of the training evaluation is attributed to facilities, aids, and use, and 65% is attributed to specialized training including the pre-fire planning inspection program.”): 1.65 points of a possible 9

    • 64.2
      Griff Wigley says:

      I’m not sure how to make sense of such low scores for A) # of firefighters and B) training.

      • 64.2.1
        kiffi summa says:

        Griff: I don’t know that anyone commenting here has the knowledge to make sense of the scores and the informed interpretation of them; I know that I certainly don’t, and if you’ll excuse me saying so, I don’t think you do either.

        I think the most important thing is the continuance of the very good 4 rating, and the competence we see (Jane Moline gave a lot of examples) in the outcomes of response to fire alarms.

    • 64.3
      Griff Wigley says:

      It appears to me that the one area of the ISO report that the Fire Chief and firefighters have direct control over is the training and its documentation. And if you look at pages 26-27 of the report, the scores are really bad:

      B. Company Training: .51 of 25 credits

      C. Classes for Officers: 0 of 15 credits

      D. Driver and Operator Training: 0 of 2 credits

      H. Pre-Fire Planning Inspections: .12 of 15 credits

      This seems to verify what both the OSHA and Soldo reports cited as important deficiencies. See pages 10-11 of the Soldo report in the packet.

      And Phil, it adds credence to what you wrote earlier in 61.3.1:

      all I’m saying is that in my experience a lack of SOPs and training documentation IS a sign of major managerial deficiencies, at least when is comes to units with an emergency response role.

      • 64.3.1
        john george says:

        Griff- This may be a dumb question, but if training is as important as the table of figures would seem to indicate, how is having two separate areas for storage of trucks and equipment and another for training going to improve the scores? Doesn’t training involve the use of the equipment? Will the firefighters have two sets of equipment, one for training and one for use? Maybe I missed something in the earlier discussion, so I’m open for enlightenment.

  • 65
    Griff Wigley says:

    I just noticed this in last Friday’s Administrator’s Memo by Tim Madigan:

    As noted earlier, Mayor Rossing and I met on Monday with Dundas Mayor Switzer and City Administrator McCarthy to discuss the arrangement for Fire and sanitary sewer services between the two cities. I attended the Dundas Council meeting that night to listen to their ideas related to Fire Services.

    It’s a good sign that leaders from both cities are talking and listening. I wonder how it’s going.

  • 66
    Griff Wigley says:

    Today’s Nfld News: Insurance rating maintained, but points to lack of training

    In the area of training, the department received less than 20 percent of the available credits… The ISO report gave the Fire Department 3.44 credits of a possible 65 total in the seven categories of specialized training. In three areas — classes for officers, driver and operator training and new driver and operator training — the department received no credit…

    Fire Chief Gerry Franek attributes the score to several factors including a lack of expensive equipment such as a drill tower and smoke room used for fire simulation training. Franek also says he was given an abbreviated time period — just a few weeks — in which to gather necessary documentation and because of that failed to submit documentation of training he has received. And, he said, there are limits to the amount of time in which part-time firefighters have available for training.

    For maximum credit, said ISO’s Massington, “the criteria is that firefighters train 20 hours per month. This is for full time or paid on-call.”

    • 66.1
      kiffi summa says:

      I simply do not understand why the newspaper just continually ‘stirs the pot’ on the ‘side’ of City Hall, and against the firefighters…

      Have they ever interviewed the Fire Chief or a group of the fighters and gotten their side of the story?

      The newspaper always takes the position, in the end , that there is nothing that citizens might question in the workings of City Hall; is it just the $$ they get by being named the official newspaper of the city, printing the public notices, etc?

      Time after time the same old tired attitudes prevail over at the newspaper; there is no investigative work ever done on anything but a human interest issue.

      I should think the performance of our firefighters shows that they have put the training they have to achieving very good outcomes; lets have some editorial analysis rather than just a rehash of the PR report from City Hall.

    • 66.2
      Jane Moline says:

      I agree, Kiffi. Of course, if we spent $550,000 on a training facility like they have in the cities, and spent at least another $100,000 annually on an administrator who documents the training and keeps track of the paperwork, we could have a really great fire deparment that does the same as it does now except Griff, the Northfield News, and the mayor would not have anything to criticize.

      We get what we pay for, and it has been a great fire department with great fire protection and response. We don’t get such great documentation and we are not willing to pay for large amounts of training expenses--so we don’t have such great paperwork to show in that area. What is really important here?

    • 66.3
      Griff Wigley says:

      Jane, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the NFD spend large amounts of money on a training facility. If so, can you point to it?

      And Chief Franek agreed with Soldo on what needed to be changed. See p. 13 of the packet:

      10 b. Summary of Consultant Soldo’s Recommendation(s):

      * It is recommended that the Fire Chief, in consultation with the PSD, City Administrator and HSRI Director: 1) establish minimum training requirements all FFs, probationary and non-probationary, must complete prior to their active participation in fire calls; 2) Develop and implement an annual training schedule providing for skills training in all critical skill areas; and, 3) Establish a training protocol and SOP.

      c. Summary of Fire Chief Franek’s and PSD Taylor’s Recommendation(s):

      * Fire Chief Franek and PSD Taylor agreed with Consultant Soldo’s recommendations

  • 67
    kiffi summa says:

    Once again, the NFNews has come out with an editorial which is so offensive, IMO, in not being able to parse out the specificity of a paid on-call volunteer fire department, instead exacerbating the strife of this struggle.

    Their first sentence says: “Northfield firefighters can call themselves whatever they’d like, but to the rest of us, they’re certainly not volunteers”.

    To the rest of who?

    I think it’s clear from many comments on this site that the general public does consider them to be ‘volunteers’, in as much as they are not salaried employees of the city, and do not fulfill the definition of other contracted employees, consultants, etc.
    They perform a specific service, when they are called to act, and are paid accordingly.

    Because the NFNews is the specified newspaper of record for the city, printing their public notices, etc, and is paid for doing so, would they consider themselves an “employee” of the city?
    Of course not… they are hired and paid to perform a specific service.

  • 68
  • 69
    Griff Wigley says:

    Nfld News editorial today: Firefighters should not be considered volunteers

    Northfield firefighters can call themselves whatever they’d like, but to the rest of us, they’re certainly not volunteers… they are handsomely rewarded for longevity with a lump sum pension payment that, depending on the number of years they’ve put in, can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and which ranks among the highest in this part of the state.

    That’s not money taken from their paychecks, it’s money contributed to a fund on their behalf , and to which they have access after becoming vested. Make no mistake, we’re not arguing firefighters don’t earn that money. We’re quite certain they do, every penny.

    But that’s also exactly why they’re not volunteers and shouldn’t be considered as such. And that means whatever internal city rules apply to other departments should also apply to them.

    • 69.1
      Phil Poyner says:

      This tack is a huge mistake, in my opinion. In fact, this kind of argument is another step in personalizing an issue that is fundamentally organizational. If there was one thing both sides of this issue could agree on in the past, it was that nothing under discussion should bring the dedication and courage of the NFD into question. These people are, by MN law (A “volunteer firefighter” means a person who is charged with the prevention or suppression of fires within the boundaries of the state on a volunteer, part-time or paid, on-call basis. 299N.03 Subd. 7.) and by common understanding of the term, volunteer firefighters. Questioning that volunteer status is disrespectful, gives the appearance of questioning the firefighter’s ethics (How dare you call yourselves volunteers!), and ignores the statutes. As I’ve mentioned in previous comments (31.1.1), a firefighter can be considered both a volunteer AND a city employee, so the idea that they are “either/or” appears to lack legal support…and I have yet to hear ANY of the town’s many lawyers say that I miss-interpreted those statutes!

      So, great…here we sit. The NN is flinging mud from one side, the fire chief and his lawyer are flinging it from the other, and this entire conversation now has all the ingredients to spin away from the initial issue at the speed of any other rumor! I predict that the NN will end up looking bad, the chief is already starting to look bad, the Mayor and the City Council (and staff) will have one more reason to look bad, and in the end this issue will be resolved one way or the other with no help from the “court of public opinion”. This is rapidly moving away from problem-solving to a trading of insults.

    • 69.2
      Jane Moline says:

      I cannot believe this meaningless, devisive opinon and do not understand why there is such an attack against what is an efficient, cost-effective fire department. I will call them volunteers since they have to apply, go through training and go to many meetings and training where they are not paid. NN also seemed to call into quesitons whether or not the emplyer’s of these volunteers paid them when they go on call changes anything—in other words, are we to be upset that MOM generously supports the fire department by NOT docking firefighters for their shift pay when they are called away from work for a fire (or rescue squad)? What we should be doing to thanking these employers for making it easier for our firefighters to belong to the department.

      It was also misleading and just downright wrong for the NN to put in a headline that the Northfield firfighters wages and pensions are among the highest in the state--it does not make the connection that the high pensions are a result from years and years of dedicated service and willingness to be available at any moment. If we had high turnover we would still have the same pension expense but earned by a bunch of inexperienced, ineffective firefighters.

      Better to do an analysis to see what it costs us per capita to have our fire deparment (and include the rural district population, as they pay their fair share) and compare that with what is available around the state--because the alternative is that we pay a lot more for a less efficient department. Perhaps that is what the Northfield News is working for.

      And Phil, I would disagree with your analysis that it is the NN against Hvisty and the fire chief--I would say there is “pile-on” from the mayor, city adminstrator, Chief Taylor, Northfield News and Griff Wigley against an unsophisticated group who are belately and ineffectively responding to being steam-rolled.

  • 70
    kiffi summa says:

    Well… so it’s not just crabby Kiffi who thinks the NFNews is out of line with their repeated attacks on the firedept. , attacks which ignore the big picture facts to the point of being misrepresentation.

    What is the motivation of the NFNews? It is obviously not to bring a factual analysis to their readers.
    By continually presenting the portion of the information that supports their inexplicable positioning, they not only misinform, but cause real mischief.

    The bottom line is the really good rating that our firefighters have achieved in the past , and continue to hold today… and the measure of comfort, and actual monetary savings on insurance costs, that #4 ISO rating provides.

  • 71
    kiffi summa says:

    OOps! forgot to thank Phil… Thank you Phil … for the statute defining ‘volunteer’ firefighters, which include paid on-call respondents as volunteers.

    I wish someone would just fess up as to the motivations behind all this positioning by the City, and the newspaper…

    Is it just as simple as “We created a department named Public Safety, with a Director of Public Safety, Police Chief Taylor, and now we can’t go back and admit maybe that was not the wisest structure to pursue” ???

  • 72
    Aramis Wells says:

    I just wanted to speak a little peace. It has gotten to the point that if I don’t let some of this out I can no longer sleep at night. Every day we go about our buisness and we enjoy what we do and that is the reason we do it. However in the last year it has become so frustrating to go about our buisness. Daily we read the paper, listen to KYMN, and read the posts on here. It is very obvious someone has an agenda to shoot us down and I still don’t know what we did wrong. I do not know what kind of bullseye I just placed on myself for speaking out but I needed to thank Jane and Kiffi for their kind comments. You two have given our department a ray of hope knowing that there are citizens on our side who will fight to keep us.

    Concerned and unable to sleep,
    Aramis Wells
    Northfield Fire & Rescue

    • 72.1
      Griff Wigley says:

      Aramis, good to have you chiming in. I don’t think you have to worry about having a bullseye on your back here. I may want to argue with you but I will treat you respectfully and as moderator, will do my best to make sure others do, too.

      And congrats for being selected as the 2012 Northfield Firefighter of the Year.

      In case others don’t know, see this Feb. 14 Nfld News article: Firefighter of the Year says award was worth the wait.

    • 72.2
      Phil Poyner says:

      I’d like to second Griff’s welcome and congratulations. It will be nice to hear the viewpoints of someone that’s actually “down in the trenches”, and an expert in the field. Maybe this could be a forum where those of you with “a lot to say” get heard, and misconceptions (including some of my own) might be cleared up.

  • 73
    Aramis Wells says:

    Thanks Griff for the warm welcome and the congrats. I was really hoping my 15 minutes would have been up by now but that darned award is following me everywhere :) I was really suprised it came my way this year and Suzy gave a great write up. I would just like to say it is becoming more and more difficult to enjoy being a firefighter. What is most concering to me is that there are 30 great guys on this department with many things to offer and we haven’t been included in the discussion. In the last year we have had a lot to say but it doesn’t reach the council. So much for “chain of command” or at least that’s the mayor’s story.

  • 74
    Jane Moline says:

    Aramis--there are THOUSANDS in Northfield who appreciate what you and all the fire and rescue do —we are so grateful--but most are shy and silent--do not think because of the city’s rant and Griff’s bullying that there is any kind of huge group against you—there is a small group (of mostly ignorant, IMO) critics.

    Because of my more than 30 years living in this area, I have had the fire department come to the rescue of one of my buildings and have witnessed too many terrible accident scenes where the rescue squad had to deal with terrible situations, many including their family and friends--thank you for everything.

  • 75
    Bruce Morlan says:

    And the people in the townships are similarly supportive. We believe the current kerfuffle is an unnecessary exercise that will, in the end, be put to rest as the full story is presented.

  • 76
  • 77
    kiffi summa says:

    Bruce’s characterization (#75) as “the current kerfuffle is an unnecessary exercise” is correct; however that is one of the aspects of this whole year or more of strife that really gets my goat…

    I’ll ask this once again: What is the possible reason for all this struggle of power, who’s in charge, etc.etc.etc…unless it is just that.. a senselessly destructive power game.
    I am sick to death of political power games…

    I keep thinking of the city’s organizational chart which above the department heads shows the City Administrator, and above that position the Council, and above the Council, the Citizens… yes, right up there at the top of the pile.

    But that isn’t the way it works out … the Council will listen to their senior staff before they listen to their citizens for the most part, and they are loathe to admit they have made mistakes.
    They are human; they are allowed mistakes, as is the staff allowed mistakes. It is the relentless ignoring of citizen comments, both in e-mail, at the open mic, and in person that riles.

    A lot of the problems the Council has to deal with are fraught with complicated issues that can’t all be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. I get that; after years of dong Council observing for the LWV, I certainly get that.
    But it is the lack of dealing with the personal side of these complicated issues that gets to me, they are afraid of being accused of ‘micro-managing’…a SIN it seems, in the world of local elected officials, and their administrators.

    But this town is one that micro-manages, and likes to talk about how it’s being done, even though most people prefer to talk in a less public venue than this one.

    People have been talking disparagingly about the Council and the senior staff on this issue of the firefighters for a year. Maybe it’s the company I keep, but I have never in the 17 years I’ve lived here, heard a single disparaging word about the fire department.

    ****Why can’t our Council just say : “Enough… we want the firefighters to come to a work session and talk with us; we want to have a good relationship with them and that is more important than a possible error we made in the restructuring of the Public Safety Dept. We want to end this one sided standoff… to Heck with the supposed “chain of command” … we don’t want this sorry sour situation to continue …Please come and talk to us… and soon. This is the most important thing to resolve.”

    Come on, Council .. you can do it, and even though it is far overdue, it would be appreciated.

  • 78
    Curt Benson says:

    Mayor Rossing and Administrator Madigan cited the opinions of the League of Minnesota Cities as their motivation from changing the process of selecting a Fire Chief from an election of members, to a selection by city officials. The link below from the League of Cities contains several documents regarding volunteer fire departments. The “Selection vs Election” is the most relevant. (I wish I had the skills to cut and paste here, but I can’t figure out how to do it from the way these documents are formated.)

    http://www.lmc.org/page/1/Fire.jsp

    Since the League’s recommendations are so strong, I’m wondering if other Minnesota cities who have the same volunteer fire department traditions as Northfield’s are following the recommendations of the League. Have controversies erupted elsewhere? What, if any, are the consequences for not following the Leagues suggestions?

    I think that the idea the idea that the Mayor, Administrator and Director of Public Safety are on some kind of vendetta, based on grabbing power is unfair (plus creepily conspiratorial). I think that fair minded people should at least read the League’s opinions before condemning these public servants.

    I usually tend to lean towards the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. It does seem like we’re getting good fire/rescue services at a bargain price. But I also realize it’s not 1910 anymore, and a more professional approach to managing this very odd, hybrid volunteer/part time on call employee department may be inevitable.

    • 78.1
      Phil Poyner says:

      Curt, thanks for the reminder that I should strive to be a better writer! I mean that in a good way; your words express many of the things I’ve thought about, but I’d have struggled to put it so eloquently.

    • 78.2
      Kathie Galotti says:

      Curt and Kiffi,

      I say yes to both of your most recent posts. Yes, Curt, there may be good reason to go to a selection rather than an election model. Many of you (Griff, Phil, others) have made good arguments in this respect.

      But, even if they do, that does not explain why, just once, the firefighters can’t meet to have ONE conversation with the City Council. Why the folks involved in making the decision can’t sit, face to face, with the folks most directly affected by the decision and TALK. However the decision comes out. What possible harm could that do?

    • 78.3
      Jane Moline says:

      I do not believe that just because the League says so makes it the best--their arguments assume that a “popularity” vote means that the firefighters are not cosidering qualifications in their votes when choosing their leader--I think this is a pretty arrogant and self-serviing conclusion--I believe our firefighters have consistently chosen the best qualified candidate with their votes.

      The League article also claims that that choosing by vote may lead to a contentious political process where those running win on the basis of their “personalities” and cites an example where that problem led to a fire department becoming inefficient. That did not happen in Northfeild--just because it was dysfunctional somewhere else does not make it so in Northfield. (Although there is a lot of dysfunction in Northfield to go around, I do not think we should be trying to spread it to where it isn’t--the fire department.)

      I believe the entire problem could be rectified by simply limiting the chief to qualified candidates (which the firefighters have done in the past) and making sure that those qualifications are part of the election process--for example, all qualified candidates could be REQUIRED to run for chief and multiple ballots could be used to narrow down the field until one is ultimately chosen. Sometimes the most qualified candidate does not want to be chief becuase he cannot devote the time to the position--and that is important, as well.

      All in all, I do not subscribe to dumping out everything that has been done in the past just because the League recommends it—that is a direct line to disorganized, unhappy, dissatisfied firefighters and ultimately unhappy taxpayers.

  • 79
    kiffi summa says:

    And let’s also remember that the L of MN Cities is a member organization so is likely to take an advocacy position; members are obviously cities who pay a yearly fee.
    It’s in the disbursements somewhere…

  • 80
    Jane Moline says:

    I really think that anyone with any experience with the League knows that they are not batting 100%. Their “proactive” advice is spent on simple, easy to recommend changes like “don’t let your volunteers pick their chief” and fails to provide guidance on substative issues like good rental ordinances or smart assessment processes that are fair and preserve neighborhoods or good ways to legally discourage unwanted businesses like strip clubs.

  • 81
    kiffi summa says:

    At last night’s council meeting, the reaction to the Ad Hoc Finance Study Group recommendation that the ownership (city’s) model of the NF Hospital be studied… if that brings our pleasant , soft spoken, solid background-ed Hospital Administrator, Mark Henke, to say at the micm that the process could be compared to the unpleasantness of a “digital rectal exam” (reiterated several times) … and the result being that the motion was tabled to be discussed between Hospital Board, Administration and Council at a Joint Work Session … then I think the firefighters should politely tell the Council that the process they have been going through with the City’s proposed reorganization of the Public Safety department could be compared to a rectal exam with a fire hose … and they would appreciate the same response/offer of a Joint Work session discussion, something they have asked for repeatedly.

    • 81.1
      Griff Wigley says:

      Kiffi, thanks for, um, inserting this hospital issue into the discussion. I’ve got a new blog post up on it here.

      If 30 or 50 or 100 hospital employees wanted to meet with the Council to air their grievances directly, I’d say it would be a bad idea, too.

      • 81.1.1
        kiffi summa says:

        Griff: I was feeling somewhat guilty about the grossness of my language in #81, even it was a ‘furtherance’ of the original comment made, but given your verb choice, in your first sentence, I have gotten over that!

        Yes… saw the new blog post, had already commented… and I like bringing in the role of the LWV.

  • 82
    Griff Wigley says:

    Wed. Nfld News: Firefighters’ pensions best in state; funding not as strong, says report

    A new report by the state auditor’s office finds that Northfield firefighters continue to have one of the highest pension benefits in the state. Shakopee firefighters also receive $7,500 benefit…

    Firefighters don’t contribute to the fund. Funding comes from the city, state, a $5,800 contribution from the Northfield Rural Fire Association and investment earnings. Northfield, in 2010, contributed $98,000 to the pension fund, according to the report. Divided by 32 firefighters, that’s $3,062 apiece.

    The fund received another $95,313 in state aid. Both were among the highest in the state, putting the city in the 98th and 97th percentile, respectively. The average municipal contribution among lump-sum plans was $18,116, the auditor’s office found.

    • 82.1
      Aramis Wells says:

      Maybe I’m wrong in thinking this but I think the thread title needs to be changed to “What’s up with the Northfield NEWS”. Just my two cents.

    • 82.2
      Griff Wigley says:

      Aramis, I’ve been critical of the Northfield News on this issue. But I think the discussion here on Logro as well as their articles collectively indicate that there’s been a need for much greater community awareness of the contentious issues.

      And I think the Northfield Fire Relief Association and the Rural Northfield Fire Protection District now need to be much more transparent about all aspects of their operations going forward. A good start would be for each to have their own blog sites.

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