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Firefighters get new washer, dryer

An Osakis firefighter pours a bottle of water over his head to cool down while battling a house fire last May. (Osakis Review file photo)

Last year, the Osakis Fire Department went on 47 calls and each time, whether it was an actual fire or not, firefighters were required to wear their turnout gear.

The department has an older style washing machine to clean the gear, but those types of machines just don't cut it anymore, according to State Fire Marshal Bruce West.

The Osakis Fire Department, along with 72 other departments in the state including Garfield and Leaf Valley, received grant money to purchase mechanical turnout gear washers and/or dryers.

The State Fire Marshal Division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety awarded $600,000 in grants to fire departments across the state. Some departments received money to purchase washers, dryers or both.

According to the Osakis Fire Chief Travis Middendorf, the Osakis Fire Department received a grant to purchase both a washer and dryer. He said the department ordered them before Christmas and that it could take up to 12 weeks before they receive the equipment.

When he heard that grant money was available, Middendorf said he applied for it right away.

"We have an old washer, but when money became available, I thought, 'Let's do this.' " he said.

The Osakis Fire Department has 20 firefighters and serves a population of nearly 5,000.

Studies show that firefighters are exposed to carcinogens during fires and are further exposed via soiled turnout gear. Minnesota fire departments have implemented turnout gear decontamination procedures in recent years to reduce firefighter exposure to toxic combustion byproducts. Health problems associated with exposure to these byproducts include lung disease, chronic bronchitis and cancer, according to a press release from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

The International Association of Firefighters estimates that roughly 60 percent of career firefighters will die from cancer. Firefighters are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than the general public. And by the age 60, twice as many firefighters die from cancer than heart attacks, the biggest killer among most Americans.

"Minnesota firefighters put their lives on the line to save others. There is no reason they should further risk their lives when they return to their stations and go home to their families," said West. "This equipment is necessary to ensure the safety of Minnesota firefighters."

Mechanical turnout gear washers and dryers are the most effective and efficient way to clean gear after a fire, but that equipment is often too expensive for fire departments to purchase on their own. Since 2015, 145 Minnesota fire departments have received approximately $1.1 million in grants to purchase new washer and dryers. The grants were funded by the Minnesota Fire Safety Account.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in more than 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

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