Minn. dept. receives new $100K fire truck

The truck cost $100,000, but the dept. was able to purchase the rig for $4,300

By Jamey Malcomb
The Lake County News-Chronicle

BRIMSON, Minn. — For a small, 14-member volunteer fire department, $100,000 is a giant sum of money. That's the estimated price tag a new water tender truck for fire departments, but luckily the Brimson Area Volunteer Fire Department was able to purchase the vehicle for just $4,300.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' Rural Fire Department Program was able to help the BAVFD purchase the truck through a U.S. Department of Defense Firefighter Property Program that makes surplus equipment able to support fire department operations available at a low cost to the DNR and local fire departments. In fact, the DNR asks the department to pay only the shipping costs for the equipment, which in the case of the BAVFD amounted to $4,300 for the water tender truck. The department also had to pay for about $10,000 in modifications to make it suitable for use, but that is an expense the department would have incurred even if they bought the truck new.

"Just for the truck brand new, it would cost about $100,000 and then they would still have to add all that other stuff to bring it into compliance as an emergency vehicle," DNR rural fire programs coordinator Tim Oland said.

The six-cylinder diesel-fueled water tender can haul 1,200 gallons of water to service a pumper and is easier to drive off road. The BAVFD provides fire suppression and emergency services to a 360-square mile area that includes portions of the Superior National Forest and the Cloquet Valley State Forest. Paul Tine, the chief and a founder of the 35-year-old fire department, said due to the rural nature of the area his department covers and agreements with state and federal agencies, they respond to more wildfires than structure fires. The new truck has a higher wheelbase than the older truck the fire department used and gives better clearance over grass and rough terrain.

"It was great timing because the transmission went out on our 30-year-old converted milk truck and the 1970's military six-by-six that we were using was a killer to drive with its crazy, manual shift pattern," Tine said. "It had no heat or air conditioning and the headlights didn't work well either."

The DNR has a number of different programs to help small and rural fire departments, like the one in Brimson, get funding for firefighting equipment and increase their purchasing power. The Wildland Fire Equipment Sales program allows departments to purchase fire suppression equipment meeting wildland fire specifications from the DNR at a low cost. The DNR has a cache of equipment in Grand Rapids and provides a list of equipment available for purchase on its website.

"It's usually protective pants, shirts, gloves, helmets, goggles and fire shelters, things that have to do with wildfire, they can get at cost," Oland said. "We're not trying to compete with the private sector in any way, we're just trying to stretch their budget dollars."

The USFS and the state of Minnesota combine to provide more than $300,000 a year for the Volunteer Fire Assistance Grant program, a cost-share program providing financial and technical assistance to Minnesota fire departments in cities or communities with a population under 10,000. Priority is given to fire departments that have the greatest need and participate in a community wildfire protection plan. The grants typically range from $500 to $5,000 and with 389 departments applying last year, Oland said the DNR awarded 160. He said departments typically get a grant through the VFA program once every three years, if they continuously apply.

Oland said he was really impressed with the Brimson department and their tenacity protecting the area's residents from fires as well as dealing with budgets and stretching their meager funds as far as they can go.

"I think Brimson is a real progressive rural department with committed individuals," he said. "We're sure proud of them for being good partners with the state and federal agencies we work with."

For more information on the DNR's rural fire department assistance programs, including a list of equipment for sale through the Wildland Fire Equipment Sales program, visitwww.mndnr.gov/grants/ruralfire.

Copyright 2016 the Lake County News-Chronicle

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