Fire Captain Curt Bittle (at right) will replace Fire Chief Ed Krall (at left) as head of the Winona Fire Department this summer. Krall is retiring after over 20 years as chief.
Winona Fire Chief Ed Krall will retire after over 20 years as fire chief and over 40 years of service with the Winona Fire Department. Fire Captain Kurt Bittle will replace Krall, City Manager Judy Bodway announced this month.
During Krall's tenure as fire chief, the department has seen a lot of changes. Some of those have not been easy, such as staying current with increasingly complicated state requirements for training, adjusting to a new radio system, and balancing a shifting budget.
"I face the same challenges as anybody in this position: we are only given so much money." Krall explained. "To run the department, to maintain certain programs, and to give the community the same level of protection is quite challenging sometimes."
The department saved the city of Winona over $100,000 every year by replacing full-time posts with part-time positions.
The department has had much to be proud of under Krall. It was the first department in the state to offer certified hazardous material clean-up. When hazardous materials are spilled or have leaked, the building in which the spill has occurred must be evacuated and no one can go inside until a certified team responds. If the Winona Fire Department were not certified to handle spills, businesses in Winona would have to wait for a team from Rochester or the Twin Cities in order to get back to work.
Former city manager Eric Sorensen praised Krall for that program, the training of his staff, and letting his staff help decide what equipment the department should buy. He also lauded Krall for maintaining high insurance ratings based on the city's fire response, which keeps insurance costs down for home and business owners. The fire prevention program has also made remarkable progress, Krall said. "We went from a nothing program to a superb program." "[Krall] is going to be missed," Sorensen reflected.
Emergency medical care has been one of the biggest areas of growth for the department. Medical emergencies make up 70 percent of the department's calls, and of the department's 18 firefighters, 13 are paramedics. Krall gave his predecessor, Ed Koehner, credit for correctly forecasting the growing importance of emergency medical services as part of the department's mission. Now, excepting transportation, "we can do anything the ambulance can," Krall added. Coincidentally, Bittle was the department's first paramedic.
Bittle has been with the fire department for over 20 years. He currently supervises medical training and services; he wrote the department's emergency medical protocols; he is the lead instructor for ice and water rescue training, and he is the senior fire captain of his shift.
Krall commended Bittle for his "spotless record" and his great attitude.
"He is willing to accept any challenge with a smile. There is little doubt in my mind that he will be an excellent leader," Krall said.
Krall and Bittle have begun weekly meetings, where the retiring chief helps to prepare and advise the captain before Bittle is sworn in as chief, and Krall hands off his title at the end of May.