The Eden Prairie Fire Department was established in 1967. Until 1967, Hopkins, MN sent their men and equipment to Eden Prairie to fight fires and provide emergency help. It became evident that the Hopkins effort was not always enough and in 1967, a young Eden Prairie man, Ray Mitchell, approached the Mayor with an appeal for establishing an Eden Prairie Fire Department.
The Mayor gave the go-ahead and that year, Ray Mitchell was named the Fire Chief and Dave Anderson the Assistant Chief. Many pancake breakfasts were held to raise funds for the intensive training of the first volunteers, who were put through their paces by members of the Hopkins station. Eden Prairie's first truck was purchased with funds given by the Lion's Club. It had a 1,000-gallon tank, but could only pump it out at the rate of about 300 gallons per minute. It was slow compared to today's modern trucks whose pumping capacity is 1,200 to 1,500 gallons per minute, but those first twenty young men in heavy rubber clothing did the best they could with what they had in the early days of the department. Breathing equipment was shared because there was only enough for four men. The men received no pay for the first three or four years. They then began to get $3 per call and $2 for each of the two monthly training drills.
With the invention of the pager and remote phones still many years in the future, the Eden Prairie Fire Department had to rely on a home telephone "relay system" to alert their volunteers. The first news of a fire went out to Mitchell or Anderson and from then on, it was the wives at home who called out the troops. Each wife had the name of two firefighters to call and the person at that number called her two designated numbers and so on down the line until all the men had been reached. It was an awesome responsibility for all concerned. For the Chief and the Assistant Chief, it usually meant staying home during the holidays in order to be always on call.
In those days, sixteen year-olds could be used as volunteers with their parents' consent. Mitchell, who also worked for the Department of Buildings and Grounds, recalls the time that those youngsters, from their study-hall rooms, would hear the "fire-call" signal being sent to Mitchell at the school. As soon as the young volunteers saw him racing down the hallway to get to his pick-up truck, they would bolt out of school and climb onto the truck, heading for the station where they'd roll out of the fire truck and head for the fire!
Like all firefighting units, the Eden Prairie firefighters have seen tragedy and triumph and sometimes the whole thing is an endurance test no one could predict. Mitchell remembers a fire at a landfill that took one week to conquer with January weather plunging to a windchill of minus 65 degrees. Water for that fire was piped from a mile away using irrigation pipe and three million gallons of water before the last spark was finally out.
The Eden Prairie Volunteer Fire Department has stepped up from those early days with one truck into a new era. With its state-of-the-art equipment and the constant upgrading and modernizing of its training, Eden Prairie has become the star in the crown of volunteer units in the Metropolitan areas of Minneapolis.