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Millions of grant dollars pledged to equip South Dakota firefighters

National Park Service

Volunteer firefighters are people prepared to run into a burning building and save your life – all without getting paid.

However, the gear they wear and the water they use all has to come from somewhere. The state of South Dakota is moving to help departments make ends meet.

Five million in grant dollars have been made available to help South Dakota’s volunteer fire departments invest in updated safety gear.

Charlie Kludt is the president of the state Firefighters Association. He said the program was initiated by Canton representative Kevin Jensen.

“With the intent of providing some assistance to the small, volunteer departments around the state to be able to purchase whether it be some of the structural gear, some rescue equipment, or even if they needed it for wildland,” Kludt said.

Kludt said every piece of a firefighter’s gear comes with a price tag.

“By the time you buy everything they need, just to get themselves covered up head-to-toe, you could be looking at spending right around $5,000 per person to do that," Kludt said. "Now, when you start putting on their air packs they have to wear to go into a fire, you’re looking at the total cost of being $8,000-$9,000 per person – and that hasn’t even put a hose in their hand yet.”

He said the reality of these expenses can catch up to departments fast.

“Whenever we talk to a group, they don’t realize the expense that goes into purchasing this gear," Kludt said. "That gear is supposed to be swapped out every ten years – whether it’s worn out or not. With that being said, not all departments can afford to do that.”

Kludt said the Firefighters Association looks forward to assisting local fire departments in the grant application process.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture