Fire departments benefitting from pilot program

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
It was far more than grown boys playing with fire, but Hillsboro Fire Chief Ben Steketee admitted the training session he and about two dozen area firefighters participated in Sunday was a serious good time.

“It was very good training-and a lot of fun,” Steketee said. “That’s what we like.”

The training session, sixth in a series of eight, was held at Hillsboro Heights. Firefighters from Hillsboro, Marion, Durham and Herington participated.

The training is being funded with a state grant administered through the University of Kansas, and is a pilot program for the entire state, Steketee said. The intent of the program is to bring professional training to rural fire departments.

“When I got wind of (the grant), I just put my hand up and said, ‘Yeah, Hillsboro will take it,'” Steketee said. “It’s free training. I offered it to everyone in the county-virtually anyone who wanted to could come and take advantage of it. We’re just the host department.”

On this day, participants were exposed to three situations: a vehicle fire, a “flash-pan fire” in which propane-fed fires in 6-feet-by-6-feet pans were extinguished with foam, and a burning “Christmas tree,” which was a free-standing pipe structure set aflame with propane.

“It was pretty impressive,” Steketee said of the latter exercise. “There is a valve, and we were training to protect a particular firefighter to go up and shut the valve off.”

Steketee said once firefighters complete the entire class and pass a test, they are nationally certified as entry-level firefighters and, theoretically, could be hired anywhere in the country.

“It’s excellent training, especially for rural firefighters,” he said.

This latest session came during a week when Steketee received word that the city of Hillsboro had received a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration in the amount of $17,280.

The funds will be used to purchase bunker gear for the volunteer department. Bunk gear includes appropriate fire-resistant coats, pants and other protective clothing.

The department’s current bunker gear does not meet National Fire Protection Association code. This grant will supply the majority of funds needed to purchase new gear for the entire department.

“We want to make sure our firefighters are safe,” said City Administrator Steven Garrett. “This grant will help us assure that we have the most current bunker gear.”

Without the grant, Garrett said, replacing the old gear would have had to be completed in phases.

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