FAIRMONT - About 15 years ago, Martin County made the switch from rural routes to street addresses, assigned to help fire, police, ambulance and other emergency responders.
"We used to have every site numbered," recalled Roger Carlson, a longtime firefighter with the Fairmont Fire Department. "For example, we would have farm site 2402, and we had a book that gave us directions to every farm site."
"Before the change, the farmers gave you directions by landmarks," said Richard Wiederhoeft of Richard's Towing and Auto Repair in Fairmont. "Being born and raised here, I know where 'Potter's Corner' and 'Bixby Corner' are, but then they would say, "Go east a couple miles after Potter's Corner, then turn south by the big tree, then look for the old barn.' So the street addresses are a lot easier."
IT’S?SOMEWHERE?— With the exception of a few dead ends and lakes, the transition of Martin County’s rural roads to street addresses has been beneficial for residents and emergency workers.
Changing to rural addressing was a move met with resistance at first, even by those it was meant to help.
"I was used to finding everything by the plat book," admitted former Martin County Sheriff's Deputy Eugene "Duffy" Post. "There was a certain amount of pride being able to find your way around by township coordinates. And for those who had a rural address, there was a certain amount of pride of being on a rural route. When it changed to a street address, I think some of them felt they were losing their identity."
"At first I thought it was dumb," Wiederhoeft admitted. "I thought they were wasting money on it and that it was going to be a cluster. But it's definitely easier."
Switching to simplified street addresses - with "streets" running west to east and "avenues" running south to north - along with advances in technology, has been a blessing for emergency workers.
The streets number from 10th Street at the Minnesota/Iowa state line up to 250th Street at the Martin/Watonwan County line.
Avenues are numbered in a similar fashion, from 10th Avenue near the Martin/Jackson County line to 310th Avenue near the Martin/Faribault County line.
Addresses follow the road numbers. For example, an address in the 200 block of 240th Avenue would be located in the southeast corner of the county near East Chain, while an address in the 200 block of 240th Street would be in the far northwest corner of the county.
"We just remember that anything past 100th Street is north of Fairmont and that the fairgrounds road is 190th Avenue," Wiederhoeft said. "It took about three or four years, but it was easy once you got the layout down."
"It's helped immensely," said LuAnn Akers, a dispatcher for the Martin County Sheriff's Office. "[Prior to rural addressing] we had to run this old DOS program that we constantly had to maintain with directions to each farm place. Some of the old farm places, the only thing we had to identify them was their phone numbers and that was it. We had to look up directions in other programs. Some that called could give us their old fire numbers that were assigned, but that didn't help us."
Getting addresses to a rural residence could take up about five minutes of a dispatcher's time. Now, the information is immediate.
"Give me any address now, and I can find it like that," Akers said.
"We're not out as often to know it well, so we sometimes still need to ask for directions from dispatch," Carlson said. "We have 32 firefighters, and now all the same ones respond every time. But it does help in knowing that if you're at 210th Avenue, the next one is 220."
"It's easier to get fire, ambulance, police, even the mail," said Deputy Chad Petschke. "Everything is chopped into square miles, it's in numerical order from west to east, south to north. You can hear an address and figure out where it is in the county."
But the layout wasn't foolproof, at first.
"There are several dead ends, or a road that ends at a lake and picks up on the other side," Post said. "Just following the road could lead to those problems. I don't know if I ever got fully comfortable with it. I still tended to pull over and look at the plat book. But it was just a matter of transferring County Road 26 to 110th Street or 120th Street, depending on where in the county you were at. But I had it all in my head."
Technology advances since Post's retirement in 2004 also help.
"GPS has also helped a lot," Akers said. "It takes much of the pressure off of us not needing to give directions."
"GPS has opened the world to everyone," Post said. "It was really a game-changer."
"We've installed GPS in our trucks and it's helped several times," Carlson said. "Occasionally, we know it's sending us in the wrong direction, so we still need to rely on directions from dispatch."
"I don't have GPS in my trucks, but just having the roads numbered now helps a lot," Wiederhoeft said.
Add in smartphones, and addresses and maps are at anyone's fingertips.
"The younger deputies have always just used their smartphones to figure out where they need to go," Petschke said. "Lives and buildings have been saved, and calls don't get lost anymore."
And while there may still be some residents who refer to their old rural routes and directions, most have adapted to the change.
"I remember hearing some of the old farmers complain about being given a street address," Wiederhoeft said. "I just say, 'Go ahead and give me the street address, and I'll make it there.'"
"It was needed, and it's made our work a lot easier," Akers said. "So we like it."