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State Forestry Awards Small Grants to Rural Fire Departments for Equipment, Training

The state Division of Forestry is awarding nearly $160,000 in grants to 34 fire departments around Alaska to help them buy equipment that’ll improve their ability to protect their communities.

“The grants only go up to about $5,000, but the funding can be used for training, for equipment, for apparatus,” Forestry spokesperson Sarah Saarloos says of the grants that are awarded to smaller, rural fire departments that serve a population of up to 10,000 people.

She says when they apply for the grant, the departments must list what they intend to buy with it. And she says each department’s needs vary.

“There was some funding towards more equipment, for pumps and rapid filling stations, and things like that,” she said in an interview Thursday.

The rapid-filling station requested by Tri-Valley Volunteer Fire Department in Healy will enable the agency to set up a temporary facility in a remote area that will draw water from a nearby lake or river into a tank that tankers can get to quickly to fill up and get back to the fireline.

Saarloos says some agencies also use the grant for structural fires, like homes.

“This funding is to assist with suppression efforts in both structure and wildland fires,” she said.

Other departments plan to use the grants for more basic equipment and supplies, like the Fairbanks-area Chena Goldstream Fire and Rescue’s request for funding to buy more personal protective equipment and fire-resistant clothing.

“Actually, the most common item was pants – It was a big year for pants,” she said, adding that each pair of the fireproof pants costs about $200.

Saarloos says funding for the grant comes from the federal Department of Agriculture, which disburses it to states. She says the Forestry Division uses the money for grants to rural fire departments. Each department must provide a 10 percent match for the grant.

“So that 10 percent can be in-kind,” she said. “That could be training or other situations that we kind of work out.”

Saarlos says Forestry received the federal funding at the beginning of the month and is now distributing it to each department.