Little Falls Fire Department expands coverage; looking for up to six new firefighters

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

The Little Falls Fire Department has added another 22.2 square miles to its 230 square miles of coverage area. The Department will now serve Fort Ripley Township in Crow Wing County — after approval was given by the Council Monday.

In addition to the extra coverage, three firefighters have retired, including Assistant Fire Chief David Benson (34 years), Mike Nelson (22 years) and James Reinhart (14 years).

Fire Chief Mike Nieman said there are currently 30 volunteer firefighters and told the Council eight other firefighters have more than 20 years of service with the Department.

The fire chief asked for authorization to advertise for up to six new firefighters, as he tries to keep the volunteer count at 34 – 35. In addition, firefighter training is extensive and completed in groups.

Currently, volunteer firefighters attend the required Firefighter I and Firefighter II training (200 hours) with no reimbursement. His request that firefighters be paid their hourly rate of $7 per hour to attend training was approved.

Nieman said he had funds set aside for the training, which City Administrator Dan Vogt indicated had been included in the 2015 budget.

Nieman also received the go-ahead to apply for a grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to purchase 15 sets of personal protection equipment (PPE), at about $3,000 each. These sets include boots, pants, coats, helmets and gloves. Nieman said the shelf life on a set of PPE is 10 years. The grant would also help pay for a new air/hydraulic extrication tool (Jaws of Life), estimated at about $28,000. Nieman said the Department has two of these tools — one of which is 22 years old. The new Jaws of Life would replace the 22-year-old piece of equipment.

The total grant is estimated at $60,000 with a 5 percent match requirement, about $3,000.

With the retirement of the assistant fire chief, Nieman said promotions had taken place within the Department. Tim Tabatt, who has been with the Department for 28 years and was second assistant, will now be first assistant chief.

Mike LeMieur, 24 years, will move from captain to second assistant chief.

Craig Seelen, 14 years, will move into the captain position and will also be an investigator.

Assistant chiefs take over if the chief is out of town. “We don’t know when we’re going to have a fire and that’s what is really hard — that’s why we have two assistant chiefs,” said Nieman. “You always have to have someone in charge of the team.”