The Chatfield Fire Department has created a collection of binders containing aerial views and floor plans of downtown buildings and large commercial structures, as well as maps of neighborhoods for use in case of catastrophe.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
The Chatfield Fire Department has created a collection of binders containing aerial views and floor plans of downtown buildings and large commercial structures, as well as maps of neighborhoods for use in case of catastrophe. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Chatfield's fire department has been planning for the worst-case scenarios over the past few months in order to develop a reasonable plan of attack should the community experience some sort of catastrophe or major fire.

"The decision to pre-plan all started about a year or so ago, and we started working on it this year. The Commercial Club asked what we were doing in case of a citywide catastrophe or a major fire," said Chatfield firefighter Brian Burkholder. The department has been planning ahead and mapping buildings to be prepared for the worst.

He explained, "Every 15 years, we have to do an ISO (Insurance Services Office) report - it's a report to the insurance company to go off of because insurance premiums are based on the equipment we have. We last did an ISO report in 1998, and it was time to update our report."

Burkholder also explained that the report is mandatory and the department completes a 10- to 12-page form explaining the Chatfield Fire Department system, including what size hydrants the city has, the water main sizes and the results of flow testing for the city.

"When we had a meeting with the Commercial Club, they brought it to our attention and wanted us to push pre-planning. They want us to pre-plan 25 percent of all commercial buildings every six months, and we wanted to start because of our ISO report and the people downtown," Burkholder added.

The Commercial Club and fire department have reason to be concerned with the wellbeing of the four blocks of downtown businesses, given that the buildings are all over a century old and have been repurposed and retrofitted several times.

"We started doing downtown buildings only right away. Because of the Lanesboro incident several years ago, we like to know what the ceiling heights are, where to find the gas and power, where the firewall is and where we can stop a fire because a lot of the buildings are built through firewalls," Burkholder related.

Kristi Clarke, from the city's planning and zoning, helped draw detailed maps. She broke it down to blocks and used an aerial view of the block to draw up the floor plan of each building.

The department has aerial photos of downtown business buildings because it allows them to see what entries and impediments are atop the structures. "We know that they're all two-story buildings, so we're going to need a ladder truck, which means we'll have to call Stewartville," Burkholder explained. "It's not only for the businesses, but for the accountability of the apartments upstairs over the businesses."

The department has a mapping binder for downtown businesses, one for large commercial businesses and another for residential areas.

"We decided to expand the planning and went one step further," Burkholder said. "We decided to do a citywide evacuation plan, so we divided it down to blocks and sections, and by sections and house numbers, and we did businesses outside the four-block downtown area - the elementary and high school, Strongwell, the care center, Olmsted Medical Center, Kwik Trip, Riley Funeral Home, places like that."

The firefighters already tested their maps of the elementary school this past May, when they conducted a full evacuation drill in cooperation with the administration, the police department and the ambulance service. Doing so showed whether their maps were accurate and which keys they still needed to obtain to search the building thoroughly.

Residential mapping will assist not only the local fire department in taking stock of a neighborhood and accounting for its residents, but will also help firefighters from other communities find citizens in the event that a catastrophe strikes.

"Whether it's an explosion or a tornado, if we evacuate a section of town, we'd probably end up calling for mutual aid, so to have maps to direct mutual aid firemen will help so everybody is accounted for," Burkholder added. "The mutual aid firemen can take the map and go door to door - because we have house numbers and who lives there - and check off every house. Eventually, these books will be all available in our pumper trucks, and eventually, we hope to have them online and available on the computer in the trucks so we can just look them up."

Burkholder pointed out that the plan is a work in progress, but said the process is going fairly decent.

"It's early on, but we've had good responses - we've done eight downtown businesses, we've gotten 14 large commercial businesses and we're hoping to do more," he said. "We'd like to have all the businesses call us so we can take on all the information we can for business owners and the department."

A committee of eight firefighters - six officers and two non-officer firemen - conducts walk-throughs of buildings, making notes of where specific entrances and exits are, where rooms are, and how it might be best to approach the building if it were involved in a disaster or fire.

"We're not there to do inspections or tell you to do anything - we're not the fire marshal - so this is for our fire protection only and for the protection of others," Burkholder said.

He encouraged business and property owners to contact the fire department to schedule building surveys and he also encouraged landlords to assist tenants - both residential and commercial - in allowing the department to take the tours.

Appointments are available Tuesdays through Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and should be made by contacting Mary Peterson at city hall, calling (507) 867-3810 or emailing at mpeterson@ci.chatfield.mn.us.