After 25 years, fire chief will step down
Scott Aker grew up in fire stations in St. Paul. Beyond the little-boy dreams of being a firefighter, he knew from an early age it was something he wanted to do.
When he moved to Rosemount in 1979, he looked into joining the volunteer department but it wasn't until 1982 that he finally got on.
Looking back on the last 31 years, he wouldn't change a thing.
"I've enjoyed 99 percent of my days," said Aker.
Aker has served the department as chief for 25 of those years. At first he was elected by his fellow officers and in later years he has been continually appointed by the city council. He won't be again, though.
He's at the end of his most recent three-year term and said he feels like it's time to step down. The city of Rosemount has started to take applications for the next chief and Aker said he would not re-apply. The council will chose a new chief sometime in March or April.
"I have mixed emotions about it," said Aker of stepping down. He added that he will miss being part of the department but will enjoy having more time for other things.
His role as fire chief requires him to always be on call. A retired elementary school teacher, Aker said for the last several years he has made 90 percent of the department's calls. He puts in another 25 to 30 hours a week doing administrative work.
"As chief I wanted to set an example and be there," said Aker of responding to calls. "I've always been 100 percent committed to it."
Since Aker joined the department, Rosemount and the fire department have changed considerably. When he first joined Rosemount was a city of 7,000 and the fire department responded to just over 100 calls a year. At the time the fire department had roughly 20 volunteers, said Aker.
Now the 40-member volunteer department answers more than 700 calls a year and Rosemount has grown to a city of nearly 23,000 people.
Aker said the fire department has done a good job of keeping up with the changes and the challenges that came with them. He credits the hard work of firefighters, past and present, for their commitment to their community.
"I get a letter almost every week from a call we've been to," said Aker. "We get a lot of compliments from the council and the public."
The city has built two fire stations during Aker's time with the department. Aker sat on the committees for both and said it was an enjoyable experience. The department also has to keep up with equipment needs.
Being chief comes with certain risks and one of those is that over the years Aker has met a lot of people. In fact, Aker's wife won't take him to Cub Foods anymore, because he can't get out of the store without stopping to talk with two or three people.
"I like being able to be involved in the community and getting to know people," said Aker.
For 25 years Aker has been the face of the Rosemount Fire Department but he takes very little credit for the department's successes. Aker said being surrounded by good people over the years has made his job easy. That includes personnel from the surrounding fire departments.
"We have an excellent and very dedicated group of firefighters," Aker said. "We have good working relationships with the surrounding departments."
Volunteering on the department and serving as fire chief also have meant a great deal of sacrifice from Aker's wife and three children. Aker said it was standard procedure for him to be late for things because he was on a call, or for him to rush out during Christmas dinner for a fire.
"You can't do this job unless you have the support of your family," said Aker.
As the department looks forward, Aker said he's confident someone will be able to fill his shoes. While he won't be in charge anymore, Aker said he'll be around to offer any assistance when needed.
"We have good people that will step up and do it," said Aker of the next chief.
The Rosemount Fire Department is an on-call volunteer department. The department pays its firefighters $6 per call and offers a good retirement program. The city raised firefighter pay from $2 to $6 per call last year. On average, Aker said firefighters are paid about $1,500 a year for their service.
While it's a difficult time to be asking the city to spend money, Aker said he would like to see the city raise firefighter pay to at least $10 per call.
"We are still behind other cities. It would be nice to recognize (firefighters) for their efforts," said Aker.
Aker doesn't have any grand plans for retirement. He thinks he'll do some volunteering and see what else comes his way. As for the last 31 years, Aker said he's glad to have been able to have done something for his community.
"I would do it all over again."