BURNSVILLE, Minn. — Mental Health Awareness month kicks off this week, which is the same time a brand new fire station opens to the public in Burnsville. It's designed to prioritize the wellbeing of firefighters and paramedics.
From a meditation garden to a wellness room, there are many features that promote relaxation.
There are also decontamination zones to separate firefighters from the chemicals that put them at a risk that Burnsville Assistance Chief Terry Ritchie says is three times higher than other people to get cancer.
"It’s extremely important after a fire that we get these guys showered and get that dirty gear off as quick as possible," said Ritchie. "We’re saving our own lives."
The new station is divided into three contamination zones to segregate dirty equipment and gear recently used on a call from gear that is in the process of decontamination and the fully clean area.
The 44,000-square-foot building was built from the ground up and took about 18 months. It cost about $18 million that the city used bonds for backed by taxpayers.
The former fire hall, which Ritchie says was the oldest building in the city, no longer allowed the department to grow and adapt. The department currently has 45 full-time firefighters who respond to about 8,000 calls a year, some of which can be difficult.
"Firefighting never used to be about health and wellness and mental illness," said Ritchie. "We’re trying to make it OK here, you know, that it is OK to talk about it, you should talk about it, you need to talk about it."
Providing private sleeping and bathroom areas, kitchen amenities, workout facilities and quiet space to decompress are essential to maintain peak physical fitness and high quality sleep.
If you'd like to experience the innovative new station, it's open to the public on Saturday for a family-friendly event.
The department is inviting the public to explore the training spaces, apparatus bays, engines, ambulances and more. There are also interactive elements like hydrant hoses, ladder of trust and food trucks. The details are:
- What: Burnsville Fire Station No. 1 Grand Opening
- When: Saturday, May 7 | 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
- Where: Burnsville Fire Station No. 1, 14275 Newton Ave.
- Cost: Free
Governor Tim Walz also recently signed a bill to help ensure that Minnesota firefighters continue to have access to resources to protect their physical and mental health.
The Hometown Heroes Assistance Program dedicates $4 million per year so that Minnesota firefighters have access to the education, prevention and care to handle a cardiac, emotional trauma or cancer diagnosis.