Minn. fire departments receive training grants

Tenants and business owners are still recovering from recent fires in the University area.

Firefighter Emergency Medical Technicians Brock Tuntland and Riley Champagne practice high performance CPR at the Emergency Operations Training Facility on Tuesday.  EMT training uses funds from the Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education training grant.

Holly Peterson

Firefighter Emergency Medical Technicians Brock Tuntland and Riley Champagne practice high performance CPR at the Emergency Operations Training Facility on Tuesday. EMT training uses funds from the Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education training grant.

Allison Kronberg

On Tuesday, David Barnhart demolished the remains of his building, which caught fire and burned to the ground Aug. 1. But he had only good things to say about the firefighters who fought the eight-hour blaze in Prospect Park.

“[The firefighters] were totally aggressive in fighting the fire, totally responsive to our fears and were very kind and accommodating,” he said.

For the past three years, the Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education has given a training grant to the state’s 785 fire departments on a per-firefighter basis.

The Minneapolis Fire Department received $32,640 at the end of November to train its 408 firefighters.

The building that burned down at 2812 SE University Ave. housed three small businesses. The most significant loss, besides the building itself, was a number of automobiles from the auto body shop housed there. The cause of the fire is still unknown.

Barnhart said insurance covered his loss, paying nearly $1.3 million. But many of the tenants didn’t have insurance, he said, and had to cover the losses themselves.

“It was quite traumatic for the tenants,” said Barnhart, who owned the building with his son.

He said there was nothing left to salvage of the building but hopes to decide in the spring whether to rebuild.

‘Better-prepared’ firefighters

The grant program, called Fire Safety Account, is funded by a 0.05 percent surcharge on insurance for Minnesota business and homeowners.

Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education Executive Director Bruce West said the board divides the budget it receives from the state by the number of firefighters in Minnesota to determine how much each firefighter gets. This year, all 20,700 firefighters received $80 each to enhance their training, he said.

“[The grant] is supposed to enhance a fire department’s training budget,” West said. “It’s not supposed to replace it.”

Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said his department uses the grant mostly for new hire and cadet training, which happens almost daily. Training includes Emergency Medical Technician certifications and controlled burns.

“It’s been a great asset and very helpful for our department, because it provides funding and helps offset the cost of training firefighters,” Fruetel said.

Espresso Royale manager Rex Vogen agreed the training has been effective.

A fire started in the apartments above the café in October.

“[The fire] seemed to be dealt with really well,” Vogen said. “Once they got here, they took care of things, and the fire chief was out here and was available to talk to if we needed information — and to let us know what the next step was.”

The cause of this fire also remains undetermined. Vogen said the tenants of the apartments that caught fire should be moving back soon.

Espresso Royale was out of business for a couple of days and suffered minor damage, including water damage from when firefighters were putting out the blaze.

Vogen said the café had to throw out all of the food and drinks that were exposed to smoke — which was nearly everything — but it could have been much worse.

The Minneapolis Fire Department fights about 1,200 fires per year, Fruetel said.

West said the training grant will help ensure safe and efficient firefighting around the state.

“Our desire is to enhance the training for firefighters for better safety,” he said. “The more training they get as a firefighter, they’re going to be safer on the ground. They will be better trained and better prepared.”