Fire Grants and Safety Bill heads to U.S. House

(ABC 6 News) – Firefighters have worked tirelessly to put a number intense fires out across the region, ranging from Cannon Falls to Mason City.

Congress has been working to get more federal dollars to local fire departments to help them do their jobs with the Fire Grants and Safety Act.

The bill would make it easier for firefighters to use the money for a multitude of items they need, such as replacing outdated equipment like radios and help in any expenses that may come from injuries on the job.

“We’ve got to have updated equipment for them,” said U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar. “They have got to be able to have the technology especially with the information we’re getting now on firefighters susceptible to cancer and we’ve had 300 hundred die about a year from cancer. So they’ve got to have good washing machines and dryers and all the updated technology. This helps them to get that.”

Bigger cities like Rochester have full time firefighters and more resources at their disposal, but could still use the money to help the people they serve.

“There’s always the possibility that if we’re making,” said Captain Brett Knapp of Rochester Fire Department. “Having to make a large purchase of equipment for breathing air packs or something along those lines. Looking into a grant stream of revenue would be something we might explore.”

In rural communities, like Pine Island, it’s a different story.

“We’re almost too small to be big and too big to be small,” said third assistant fire chief of PIFD, David Friese.

These firefighters are all volunteers. The money is crucial for retaining staff and keeping equipment up to date, but the number of volunteers in departments like Pine Island is shrinking, making it harder for them to act on grants alone.

Friese says they often get decline applying on their own for grants and that is why collaboration between fire departments is needed.

“It’s, it’s just not obtainable anymore for these individual departments to be standalone when it comes to looking at these funds,” Friese said.

Friese also mentioned that funds for these grants would be best used to train volunteers, not pay them. If a grant were to be used for payroll and disappear, it could raise up taxes for residents.

The Fire and Safety Bill is now on the U.S. House desk, waiting to be voted on.