Holmes embraces Brainerd Fire Chief post

Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes started with the Brainerd Fire Hall in the midst of the heat with changes in the way the fire department operates - but he's not scared of the fire.

Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes has seen several changes to the fire department since he came on board in July. Holmes, who also is the Nisswa Assistant Fire Chief, has worked side by side with several of the Brainerd personnel on fire scenes for years. (Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls)
Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes has seen several changes to the fire department since he came on board in July. Holmes, who also is the Nisswa Assistant Fire Chief, has worked side by side with several of the Brainerd personnel on fire scenes for years. (Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls)

Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes started with the Brainerd Fire Hall in the midst of the heat with changes in the way the fire department operates - but he's not scared of the fire.

Holmes, who took the chief's post in July, didn't have much of a chance to get his feet wet in his new position - he had to jump right in as Brainerd was in the process of restructuring the fire department by eliminating the five full-time equipment operators and having the fire department consist entirely on being a paid-on-call department.

Holmes is not new to the Brainerd lakes area or the fire service. He grew up in Brainerd and has been a Nisswa firefighter since 1998 and has worked side by side with the Brainerd firefighters for many years.

"I have worked with all these (Brainerd) guys on a regular basis," Holmes said. "I knew what was going on here and the restructuring part of it started prior to me. I knew it had been started and I anticipated where it would end up."

As of Oct. 21, the Brainerd Fire Department has been operating entirely on a paid-on-call department.


Holmes said as far as overall, everyday operations the transitions-both his and in the department, have been going well. He said Elaine Kraemer, the administrative specialist, has been a huge asset. Holmes said she helped give him direction when he came aboard because of all the changes happening, such as former fire chief Kevin Stunek retiring and with Crosslake Fire Chief Chip Lohmiller acting as interim chief during the gap between himself and Stunek.

"There was a huge transition going on here and I think everything is going as smoothly as anticipated," Holmes said. "There were changes made when Chip was here, that was a big change for the department on the ways they have been doing things for many years and in their defense to go from one chief to another in a five-month period has been a huge thing to put up with for everyone. ... But everyone is doing fine. Paid-on-call took a more active role in the daily operations before the full-time firefighters were eliminated."

Holmes said with a fully paid-on-call department, he will be monitoring the daily operations closely to make sure it goes well. He said they have the flexibility to have a "duty crew" staffed during busy times, if needed.

"We won't have 24-hour coverage down here, seven days a week, but we are not going to jeopardize the community's public safety as far as fire service," Holmes said.

Adjusting to internal changes in the fire department wasn't Holmes only challenge. He started work with Brainerd the day after the July 12 supercell storm ripped up hundreds of trees and caused extensive damage in the lakes area.

"The first week was intense, but it was a great experience to dive right in and start doing something right away," Holmes said. "It wasn't what you normally would do on your first week on the job."

Holmes said in his first week as the Brainerd Fire Chief, he was given the opportunity to meet people from several agencies who work together during a crisis, such as Bridges of Hope and Salvation Army. He said it was nice to meet people face-to-face and to learn more about those organizations' missions.

Holmes said being involved in the community was one of the main reasons why he decided to go into firefighting. As a child he had a passion for playing with fire trucks and as he got older he became interested in police work. When he graduated from Brainerd High School in 1992, he attended Brainerd Community College, now called Central Lakes College, and earned an Associate of Arts degree in criminal justice.


"I decided to go into law enforcement, but I really think the two of them play hand in hand," Holmes said. "I got on the fire department in Brainerd in 1994 before getting into law enforcement. ... I've always been into public safety.

"I remember my first big fire being at Planned Parenthood on Oak Street in 1994."

During that fire, he said he saw the complexity of firefighting - from putting out the fire to the overhaul of the scene, cleaning up after the fire and the investigation. As a new firefighter, Holmes said he didn't realize how much clean-up there was after fires and how much work was needed on simple things, like changing out self-containing breathing apparatuses used by firefighters

"It certainly was an eye opener and what a good lesson to learn right away," Holmes said. "Being a firefighter is not simply putting out the fire."

Now, Holmes is a veteran firefighter with two decades of service - starting as a paid-on-call firefighter in Brainerd from 1994-97 and then a Nisswa firefighter in 1998 and then becoming the assistant fire chief in 2006. When asked what piece of advice he would offer a firefighter today, Holmes said, "There is not just one thing, but I would want them to remember that everyone wants them to be part of the group and not only for fire calls. We want to do stuff as a group, such as summer parties, because it is really important for everyone to bond and to be part of a bigger family. ... In the long run this makes the firefighters more trusting with each other."

Holmes, who still serves on the Nisswa Fire Department, said his experience in Nisswa has helped him with his role in Brainerd. Holmes said he worked up the ladder in Nisswa as a firefighter to assistant fire chief, so has learned a great deal about fire service.

"Having the leadership role in the Nisswa organization has had a big impact on me being able to step into a higher leadership role here in Brainerd," Holmes said. "Being on the fire department has opened a lot of doors for me to get here being involved in other aspects of fire service, such as the Minnesota Fire Chief Association and the Cuyuna Fire Chief Association. Getting involved in these organizations gives you good contacts, good networking to allow you to continue to improve on your leadership skills."

Homes said this network helped him to be involved in a pilot project for fire service that works on firefighter training and education, focusing on human resources, leadership skills and finance.


Holmes said the Nisswa Fire Department has about 26 paid-on-call firefighters and Brainerd has 37. Holmes said Brainerd has more calls than Nisswa and the department also conducts public education in schools, offers tours of the fire hall for groups and also does inspections.

Holmes said his greatest strength as fire chief is his willingness to make changes and to try new things.

"Just because it has been done for like 20-30 years does not mean it's the best way," Holmes said. "I am willing to try to figure it out and see how things can be done more efficiently."

Holmes said his weakness is making sure he is taking input from everyone involved and having an open door policy. He said it will take time to understand what certain individuals are good at, what they want to do, learning their role and their strengths and weaknesses.

Holmes said one of his goals as fire chief is to strengthen the working relationships with law enforcement and the emergency medical services, as well as other fire departments in the area. Holmes also would like to have the Brainerd Fire Department be the agency that other departments turn to with questions, resources and services.

Most of all, Homes said the community is the fire department's focus. He said everything the fire department does is for the safety of the public, including response times and to offer better services.

Holmes has taken additional classes over the years in the fire and police field including being trained in fire apparatus operations, hazmat materials, principals of modern fire attack and high risk warrant/advanced hostage rescue. He was a firearms instructor from 2002 until this year; is a Fire Instruction and Rescue Education instructor; and is a certified ski patrol member.

Holmes also is involved in the Minnesota State Fire Chief's Association. He sits on the MSFCA's marketing and membership committee and education committee and is the Fire Chief's Assistance and Support Team member chair of the Crow Wing County shared service grant. Holmes also is the vice president of the Cuyuna Range Fire Chief's Association. He also is a volunteer with the National Ski Patrol at Mount Ski Gull and former treasurer of the Nisswa Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization.


Holmes also is the owner of Squad Pro LLC in Pequot Lakes that is an emergency equipment installer and vehicle outfitter.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 218-855-5851. Follow me at on Twitter.


Family: Wife Jenny; son Jack, 12, seventh grade; and daughter Izzy, 10, fifth grade.

Pets: Three dogs and a cat.

Last movie you went to in the theater: "Insurgent."

Favorite TV show: "24."

Perfect meal: Filet Mignon with au gratin potatoes or Rafferty's Pizza.


Hobbies: "Downhill skiing, sailing, hunting and mountain biking. I also enjoy Sunday Fundays with family and friends on the lake in the summer."

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