State fire officials say many fire stations are in poor condition, but a clause in the federal stimulus bill might change that.
There is $210 million available for bricks-and-mortar improvements to fire stations in the bill, says Finance and Commerce, The federal government will award grants on a competitive basis, and it can be used for new construction or modifications to existing stations.
The goal is to stimulate the economy and “help fire departments meet their firefighting and emergency response needs,” according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
Nyle Zikmund, chief of the Spring Lake Park Fire Department and chair of the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association’s legislative committee, says many departments throughout the state have old stations in need of repair.
Some are “pole barn” type structures, probably built with “charity and gifts,” including donated materials and sweat equity from local townspeople. “I think it’s safe to say the range [of needs] is everything from modest improvements to new construction and everything in between,” Zikmund said. “And it’s probably more prevalent in the rural areas, as the tax base just isn’t there.”
Eagan, Richfield and Spring Lake Park are listed as likely to seek the federal funds. But competition will be tough: Between 5,000 and 10,000 applications representing $30 billion worth of requests are anticipated, said Wayne Kewitsch, Richfield’s assistant fire chief.
But it’s worth a try, all agree.
“I guess if the federal government is giving stimulus money, this is as good a use as anything,” Zikmund said.