By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Delano resident Shelby Wolf has been inside enough burning buildings to know the importance of fire prevention.
“My goal is to educate people,” said Wolf, a lieutenant and inspector with West Metro Fire Rescue District.
Her outstanding leadership and commitment to fire prevention efforts were recently recognized, with Wolf having been chosen to receive the 2010 Minnesota Fire Chief’s Public Fire Safety Education award.
“I was pretty surprised,” Wolf said. “I did not expect it at all.”
Those who are familiar with Wolf’s passion and dedication, however, would likely say the award was well deserved.
Wolf’s passion for fire service began at the young age of 13, when she signed up to be a fire explorer at the Crystal Fire Department.
“I always went to the fire department open houses, and it looked interesting and fun,” she said. As a fire explorer, Wolf learned what it took to be a firefighter, and went into classrooms to teach prevention.
“Basically, we learned how to be firefighters, even though we couldn’t go into a burning building,” Wolf explained.
Instead of pursuing a fire service career, however, Wolf worked toward a degree in aviation, hoping to become an airline pilot.
Her interest in firefighting remained strong, though. At 19, Wolf became a volunteer firefighter in Crystal, and then in New Hope. Later on, she joined the Charlestown Volunteer Fire Department in Indiana.
When she moved back to Minnesota in 1998, Wolf started her six years of service with the volunteer fire department in Andover.
“That’s when I got into fire prevention,” she said. “It’s very rewarding.”
When she goes into schools, Wolf tailors her message to make it appropriate for each grade level. Young children learn that “firefighters are your friend,” and slightly older children get to explore fire prevention using an interactive dollhouse.
“The kids just love it,” she said.
A few years ago, Wolf established the Minnesota Fire and Injury Prevention Group as a way to share ideas with other fire educators in the west metro area.
“I didn’t realize how strong of a need it was until I started,” she said.
By 2012, Wolf hopes to establish a program that concentrates on fire prevention education in homes, because that is where the majority of fires occur.
“Statewide, smoking is the number-one cause of fires, and cooking is number two,” Wolf said.
Wolf recalled an incident that happened a few weeks ago, in which a woman threw her cigarette in the trash and it caught fire.
“Thank goodness she caught it,” Wolf said. “It could have been a lot worse.”
Many smokers now use “fire-safe cigarettes,” but they can create a false sense of security, according to Wolf.
“They have this special wrapper that’s supposed to be harder to ignite, but it’s still 1,000 degrees in the center when you throw it away,” she said.
Unattended stoves are another major fire hazard.
“When grease is left in a pan, it doesn’t take long for it to ignite and set the cupboards on fire,” Wolf said. “If I could teach people how to cook, the fires would go down tremendously.”
Other common causes include heating and electrical problems, Wolf said.
“Arson’s moving up the list,” she added, citing the economy as a major reason for the increase.
Each city seems to have a different likelihood for certain types of fires, based on the demographics of that area, according to Wolf.
When she conducts fire investigations, Wolf looks for clues in the house to help determine the cause of the fire.
“Patterns on the wall, furniture, lights . . . everything tells a story,” she said. Interviews with the property owners are often crucial, as well.
People who’ve been victims of a fire are given a book of helpful resources, and Wolf helps them get in touch with assistance agencies.
“I get attached to the people,” Wolf said. She recently talked to one family that had a house fire several months back and is now rebuilding.
“It was cool, because she said ‘thank you,’ and said they’d invite me to the housewarming party,” Wolf said.
Wolf said she’s thought about joining the Delano Fire Department, but is currently too busy with family activities. She and her husband, Rich, have two children 9-year-old Calvin and 6-year-old Emma who attend Delano Elementary School.
“As much as I’d love to, there’s just no way,” Wolf said.
West Metro Fire Rescue District provides fire services to the cities of Crystal and New Hope through a joint powers agreement.
To learn more about the West Metro Fire Rescue District, go to www.westmetrofire.com.