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Hackensack welcomes new leaders to fire department

Hackensack’s new fire chief and assistant chief bring plenty of experience into their new roles.

Chief Tony Peterson represents the middle generation of three generations of fire department volunteering. His dad, Jack Peterson, served many years on the Hackensack department. Tony has been on the department 35 years.

His son, Gavin, has been a firefighter for Hackensack 10 years. His son, Dane, has been a firefighter for more than three years.

Assistant Chief Dana Stanko has been a Hackensack firefighter for 27 years.

Peterson is a Hackensack native who has owned his own construction company, Tony Peterson Construction, since 1980. He builds new homes and commercial buildings and remodels both. He enjoys hunting in his spare time.

Stanko grew up in the Twin Cities. When he graduated from high school in the mid-1970s, he came to Hackensack to go fishing with a friend and never returned to the big city, except maybe to attend a Minnesota Wild hockey game.

Stanko drove trucks for Witham Concrete in Hackensack for 10 years. The city hired him to plow snow when Bill Kramer quit doing it, also about 27 years ago. That evolved into a full-time city maintenance position.

With additional training, Stanko now oversees Hackensack’s sewer and water systems as well as street maintenance.

At age 22, Peterson was the youngest member of the Hackensack Fire Department when he joined. Former chief Bernie Kading asked Stanko to join at a time when a lot of older members were retiring.

“I didn’t have a clue about the time (former chief) Butch (Moore) put in,” Peterson said, despite his firefighting experience. “My hat’s off to Butch.”

Peterson said since he and Stanko took over their leadership roles Jan. 1, they have found they can put in up to an hour a day at the fire hall.

That time likely will increase, because they plan to remodel the fire hall offices and training room this year. The building was built in 1985 and is due for some upgrading.

Hackensack’s fire department began in the 1920s or 1930s with a cart the firemen pulled by hand to fires. The cart had a 50 gallon tank, with a glass jar of acid that had to be broken to build pressure in the tank to force water out, according to the 2003 Hackensack centennial history book.

Not until 1941 did the service have a truck with a 200-gallon tank on it, which used a gas engine to force water out of the tank. In 1951, they finally bought a real fire truck.

Hackensack Fire Department became an independent, non-profit entity in 1978 after the city decided it could no longer support the service on its own. Now, the fire department has contracts with the city and townships of Hiram, Birch Lake and Woodrow to provide services.

Before the current fire hall was built, fire engines were stored at city hall, with tank trucks sitting outside. In winter, those trucks sat empty in the cold, so they would not freeze. When a fire call came, firefighters first had to fill the tanks before they could respond to a call.

“Every year, we get better and better,” Stanko said of the improved equipment, better fire trucks and improved training for firefighters in the last 25 to 30 years.

When Peterson and Stanko started with the fire department, there were 10 fire hydrants in the city of Hackensack. Today, there are 59.

Then, there was a 10,000-gallon city water tower tank. Today, the water tower tank holds 75,000 gallons of water.

The department’s newest pumper truck cost $325,000 and can pump 1,500 gallons of water per minute. The department’s largest tank truck now holds 2,000 gallons.

They have a heat seeking device to help locate fire hotspots and humans inside a fire scene.

Not only do new firefighters take two training courses before going to work, but existing firefighters also have benefitted from a state-sponsored course specific to operating the department’s pumper truck and courses offered in cities throughout the state, Peterson and Stanko said.

Area fire departments meet jointly to go through larger businesses, apartment complexes, care facilities and Northern Lights Casino and Hotel to learn about the buildings, so firefighters who might be called for mutual aid to a potentially large fire can be prepared to fight the fire.

Peterson said Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek has offered the Hackensack department helpful advice and to connect firefighters with training programs.

There has been a growing interest in firefighting from women. Six women are EMTs with the Hackensack rescue service, with three of those now also serving as firefighters. Last week the department received a shipment of smaller sized firefighter suits to better fit the female firefighters.

In addition to operating on municipal contracts with the city and townships, the Hackensack Fire Department receives revenue from pull tabs, an annual July barbecue fundraiser and private donations.

“We are blessed with the generosity of this community,” Peterson said.