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Fire departments get training grants

The Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education (MBFTE) notified Minnesota's 790 fire departments of their 2012 training reimbursement grants. The statewide grant total exceeds $2 million.

Locally, departments received:

n Park Rapids, $2,648.10;

n Nevis, $1,731.45;

n Menahga, $2,240.70;

n Lake George, $1,120.35;

n Akeley, $2,240.70;

n Carsonville, $2,342.55.

"These grants benefit the public safety of all Minnesotans," says Bruce West, executive director of MBFTE. "Assuring annual firefighter training is good for departments and their communities. Skill updating makes firefighters better responders and keeps them safer, as well."

The Fire Safety Account was created by the Minnesota Legislature in 2006. It is funded by a fire-safety surcharge on all homeowner and certain commercial insurance policies in Minnesota. The Fire Safety Advisory Committee makes recommendations to the commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety on use of the funding.

Steve Flaherty, Grand Rapids fire chief and director of Mesabi Range Community and Technical College (MRCTC) Fire Training Program, says that many departments are using this money for basic firefighter training. Others are able to reinforce basic skills with Firefighter II, auto extrication, water rescue and other high-level classes.

The training program at MRCTC serves more than 100 fire departments, from all-volunteer corps in towns of 150 people to full-time departments with their own training budgets. As program director, Flaherty sees the dramatic difference the MBFTE funds make in keeping every fire department capable of providing adequate protection.

Grants must be claimed through a reimbursement process by June 30, 2012. The amount of each grant is based on two factors -- the amount of money allocated to MBFTE by Minnesota's Fire Safety Account and the number of firefighters in each department. This year, the per-firefighter rate is $101.85.

The allotment process helps eliminate the training budget disparity between larger, better-funded departments and those in cities and towns with smaller budgets, notes West. "For the first time, Minnesota fire departments received grants without having to apply. That makes the equalizing factor even greater."