BIG LAKE FIRE CHIEF Paul Nemes and Big Lake Chief of Police Joel Scharf address the chamber membership at their monthly lunch meeting Tuesday at Saron Lutheran Church. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards).

Nemes, Scharf meet with Big Lake Chamber

Staff Writer
Jennifer Edwards
Big Lakes Fire Chief Paul Nemes and Police Chief Joel Scharf addressed a meeting of the Big Lake Chamber Tuesday at Saron Lutheran Church.
Chief Nemes, who is a fulltime captain with the City of Minneapolis Fire Dept., has volunteered with the Big Lake Fire Dept. for the past 18 years. Nemes became fire chief earlier this year after serving as a captain and assistant chief with the department.
“The Big Lake Fire Dept. has five captains and 35 members,” he said. “Our biggest challenge is in bringing in new people.”
To date this year the department has answered 130 calls for service, or about 16 calls for help per month.
“It’s a big commitment,” Chief Nemes said.
Firefighters have to complete a minimum amount of training, which takes about six months, to become registered firefighters with the state. They have to turn out for a minimum number of calls and, for the first five years, new recruits have to be available to respond to calls during the daytime.
“Some rural fire departments struggle to attract new members who can respond in the daytime,” Chief Nemes said. “We don’t have to worry about that here.”
The Big Lake Fire Dept. is one of six fire departments located in Sherburne County.
“We help with a lot of mutual aid calls to other communities in the daytime because they don’t have that rule,” Chief Nemes said.
“We are a joint venture between the city and the township, which is a bit unusual, but it seems to work out pretty well,” he said.
The fire department spends a lot of time working with young children onfire safety and fire prevention, going into local schools to address the issue. The department holds a dance every August and  a fire prevention week open house every fall.
Firefighter Pete Ahrens, who grows pumpkins every year to give away at the event, was recognized at the State Firefighters Conference for his contribution, which encourages people to attend the fire prevention open house. Nemes also talked about the demonstration kitchen, where people can see what happens when water is poured on a grease fire.
“Most fires start in the kitchen on the stovetop,” he said. “It all helps to get the message out. One family which saw the demonstration had a kitchen fire six weeks later. Because they knew what to do, by the time we got there the only thing left to do was smoke removal.”
Big Lake’s volunteer fire fighters hold a number of different jobs, including three pilots for Delta Airlines, two paramedics, machinists and even a bartender. The initial training process takes six months to complete, Nemes said.
“It’s a challenge.”
Big Lake Police Chief Joel Scharf just completed his second year in Big Lake. It is also the first full year of the police department being operated out of City Hall.
“Between us, we have 113 years of experience, Chief Scharf said. “We have a very low turnover of staff here.”
Administrative assistants Tina Peterson and Laurie Morris typed up 857 statements for the department last year. The 14 member department has a lieutenant, Sam Olson, and two detectives, Terry Nordquist and Rich Berg.
They also have one part-time officer, Guy Chaffee, who has been focusing on trash and blight removal in the city. Of the 27 cases he has been working on, 11 are now in compliance with city ordinances, Chief Scharf said.
The department also has a pool of volunteer reserve officers who donated 6,500 hours of time to serving the people of Big Lake last year.
“That is the equivalent of three fulltime officers,” said Chief Scharf. “I put a worth of around $100,000 per year on their service. That is a huge asset.”
So far this year, the BLPD has answered 7,700 calls for service. Crime rates in Big Lake are among the lowest in the state, Chief Scharf reported. 
“I am incredibly proud of that,” he said.
The most common crime in Big Lake is theft from unlocked automobiles, followed by vandalism and bad checks.
Lately police officers have been seen driving new SUVs. The Ford Explorers are the lowest priced among the vehicles the state can bid on.
“They help the driver sit up higher and they are easier to get in and out of,” Chief Scharf said. “It also keeps our equipment warm and ready to use in the winter. It’s not frozen in the trunk of a car.”
Some of the officers are wearing new, load bearing bulletproof vests, which takes pressure off their waists, thus reducing back injuries and making it easier for the officer to move around.
The BLPD has also been given the use of an ATV free of charge for one year, which they use on fields, parks and trails, Chief Scharf said.


BETTY THIELEN, 88, of Big Lake was seriously injured in a traffic accident on Airport Road in Big Lake Township Thursday afternoon. (Archive photo by Jennifer Edwards).

BIG LAKE MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENT COUNCIL have purchased hydration stations for their school and help prevent waste from plastic water bottles. Front row from left to right is Sophie Wesolowski, Emily Zinken, Erin Rootes, Mia Mielke, Destinee Schieck and Annika Holl. Back row from left to right is Erik Poffenberger, Sydney Throolin, Hailey Atwood, Cassie Walsh, Trent Ramert, Isabella Dahlen, Lexi Nau and Ashlyn Mattson. (Submitted photo).

SHERBURNE COUNTY SHERIFF Joel Brott at the Orrock Township meeting Wednesday. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards).

THE BIG LAKE AMBASSADORS take charge of the serving line.