Eagan Fire Chief Mike Scott says other fire chiefs are amazed when he tells them that Eagan still has an active Fire Auxiliary.
Few volunteer fire departments have them anymore. As family life has gotten busier, he says, most auxiliaries have fallen by the wayside.
Scott thinks the reason Eagan still has theirs is because of the strong family created within the department. "I tell new firefighters that their family just expanded by 200 people," he said.
Cathy Sportelli has a husband and two brothers in the department and she has been active in the Fire Auxiliary for the last 19 years. The annual ice cream social -- which last month netted $4,300 (before expenses) to help purchase a new thermal imaging camera for the department -- was her idea.
"I just think it's important, with our loved ones out there, we want to be able to help them in some way. It's been an honor to be active with (the auxiliary)," Sportelli said.
Through the years, the auxiliary has helped the Eagan Fire Department purchase rescue equipment such as backboards, boat equipment, water and ice rescue equipment, and the department's original thermal imaging cameras, which now need to be replaced.
But, as appreciated as their fundraising efforts are, perhaps the biggest support the auxiliary provides is the food and beverages it serves to firefighters during or after fire calls.
"You can't imagine what it means to the firefighters to have a sandwich waiting for them (when they return from a fire)," Scott said.
He makes a determination on a case-by-case basis whether to call on the auxiliary. It depends on the time of day, how long he thinks the crews will be fighting the fire, and how hot or cold the weather is.
Once he makes that call, Sportelli says, they put their phone tree into action rounding up volunteers. Depending on the situation, they get coffee and hot chocolate from a local shop and deliver it to a fire, pick up groceries, or go to the Fire Safety Center to make a meal.
The new Fire Safety Center includes a kitchen that opens onto the apparatus bay so the auxiliary can more easily serve returning firefighters. Chief Scott says it works really well and the new building has the luxury of sufficient space to feed tired and hungry crews from multiple stations.
Two or three times a year, the auxiliary puts on a babysitting clinic for the community which typically attracts about 40 children, either latch-key kids or children wanting to earn a babysitting certificate. This five-hour clinic - next scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 1 - includes lunch and offers fire and police safety discussions, first aid training, and basic babysitting information.
The auxiliary donates the proceeds it makes selling concessions at the department's annual Fire Safety Open House (this year scheduled for Saturday, October 15 - see PDF) to organizations such as Toys for Tots or Sharing and Caring Hands.
Started in 1964 as the Ladies Auxiliary, membership is open to family members of current or retired fire department personnel. Sportelli said it's not unusual to see even youngest family members helping out at the ice cream social and other events.