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Paul Flessland, Published February 06 2013

North Dakota fire training nonprofit asks for state funding

MANDAN, N.D. – A nonprofit that trains volunteer firefighters in North Dakota is seeking state funding that backers say will keep it from burning out.

Fire Academy of North Dakota has been operating with donations from Mandan businesses, oil companies and some Fargo businesses, but it is “barely enough to keep us alive,” said Darrell Graf, the academy’s chief. “It’s an uphill battle.”

Graf is asking the state for a $125,000 grant to help fund the academy, which is run solely by volunteers.

Between raising funds, maintaining equipment and teaching classes, the volunteers have become overburdened, Graf said.

“Why are we having to raise money when the state is sitting on an oil gold mine?” he said.

The academy, founded in 2003, has provided more than 750 volunteer firefighters with hands-on experience, he said. Members of the academy go to the volunteer fire departments and give them specialized training with their equipment. They also hold summer training sessions at their facility in Medina.

The only alternatives for training the state’s volunteer firefighters have are to go out of the state or attend a session in February in Minot. However, the Minot session doesn’t offer much outside training.

Jordan Stolz, a native of Sykeston, attended one of Fire Academy’s weeklong sessions in the summer of 2012 and praises their hands-on approach.

“You can read about it all you want, but you’ll never learn it until you actually do it,” said Stolz, now a student at Union College in Lincoln, Neb.

It also gives high school and college students a taste of what it is like to be a firefighter and if it is a career they actually want to pursue.

Only two students have ever decided that firefighting wasn’t for them after attending the academy, Graf said.

Stolz said he thinks the academy is worthy of state funding.

“I learned more in one week than some of my friends learned in a whole year of their fire training,” he said.

Fire Academy supporters have proposed legislation, Senate Bill 2327, to provide funding to maintain training equipment, such as a 50-foot-tall rescue tower and combustible buildings, as well as to secure land for a new facility in Mandan.

The bill is slated for a committee hearing today.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Paul Flessland at (701) 241-5502

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