Open house celebrates new gear

Published 9:17 am Monday, November 22, 2010

Dave Mullenbach of Albert Lea inspects the new first responder truck at the Albert Lea Township Fire Department on Saturday. -- Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune

Red and blue lights lit up the Albert Lea Township Fire Department on Saturday, but not because of an emergency.

Firefighters were showing off the department’s new equipment, including a new fire vehicle, to members of the general public at a celebration open house.

“We’re very fortunate,” said 1st Capt. Mike Czaplewski. “A lot of hard work has gone into this.”

Over the past year, the department has received two federal Assistance to Firefighters grants totaling $200,000.

The first grant, in the amount of $120,000, was used to purchase a new 2011 first responder truck.

The second grant, totaling $80,000, was used for new equipment, turnout gear and toward remodeling the kitchen and utility room.

According to Fire Chief Chuck Karl, each of the department’s 15 paid-on-call firefighters received a complete set of new gear, including pants, coats, gloves, helmets, nomax hoods and face masks. Thirteen sets of boots, eight self-contained breathing apparatus sets, eight air tanks and a four-gas monitor were also purchased with the grant money.

Members of the fire department also chipped in to remodel the kitchen area and add a utility room for a new washing machine to clean the turnout gear.

“We did all of the remodeling work ourselves,” said Czaplewski. “We volunteered our time and talents to save money in the township budget.”

Czaplewski said it’s the first time he’s written grants for the fire department and was “ecstatic” when he found out about the awards.

“We’ve never received grants in the past,” he said. “The federal guy said hardly anybody ever gets two grants in one year.”

The Albert Lea Township Fire Department is at 712 East Main St., Albert Lea, across from McDonald’s.

The department has responded to 51 emergency calls this year, with 10 of those being fires.

“Most were medical calls or for accidents,” said Karl.

The Albert Lea Township Fire Department covers Albert Lea Township and serves as backup to the city’s fire department. It also offers backup assistance to all fire departments in the county and has contracts with those in surrounding counties, including Mower and Faribault, and parts of north Iowa.

“We all try to work together, which is a benefit for us because of cost savings and manpower,” said Czaplewski.

He appreciates the understanding that the department’s family members shows to the firefighters.

“It’s a huge commitment on an individual, with first responders training and firefighter training,” he said. “The family’s gotta have this understanding, and most are very good about it.”

The department is looking to donate some of its older equipment to other fire departments.