Central Emergency Services firefighters may soon be getting in shape on brand new exercise equipment under the care of trained instructors, thanks to a pending $106,852 federal grant.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is expected to consider accepting the U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant at its regular meeting Tuesday night in Soldotna. The grant, embodied in Ordinance 2004-19-26, requires a local match of $11,872, for a total expenditure of $118,724.
Borough grants manager Bonnie Golden said about $80,000 of the grant would be used to purchase fitness equipment. The rest would pay for training CES personnel as fitness trainers and provide for evaluation of the program and its participants.
In a memo to the assembly, Golden said national studies have shown that heart attacks are the number one killer of firefighters. In addition, she said, CES personnel have suffered injuries associated with their strenuous work.
"With all of the diverse activities that CES personnel perform and the risk firefighters face from heart disease and injury, it is imperative that the members of CES be physically fit to perform their duties," she said. "The new wellness program will allow CES to improve overall fitness, nutritional and lifestyle habits, and the physical and mental capabilities of its work force to respond in a confident manner to any emergency."
But questions have been raised about whether exercise equipment and nutritional training might not be available for far less than the nearly $119,000 proposed in federal and local taxpayer dollars.
Looking to implement a comprehensive wellness and fitness program for its employees and volunteers, CES originally applied for the grant in 2003 but was turned down. That was before the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) came under the Department of Homeland Security. The service area reapplied in the spring of 2004 and was awarded the grant through the department's Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.
The firefighter assistance grants are expected to total some $750 million in direct appropriations to the nation's emergency responders during fiscal year 2004, according to the Homeland Security press office.
Acting CES Fire Chief Steve O'Connor said the workout equipment bought with the CES grant would be divided among four stations in Sterling, on Kalifornsky Beach Road, the central station in Soldotna and at Funny River.
CES has about 26 full-time workers plus a cadre of between 30 and 35 volunteers covering the four stations who would be encouraged to use the equipment, O'Connor said. Except for Funny River, which does not have round-the-clock on-duty personnel, the other three stations have between six and seven employees on site 24 hours a day, affording them ample opportunity to utilize the equipment.
CES employees haven't sustained any major injuries recently, and no CES employee has ever suffered a heart attack on the job, O'Connor noted. Still, sprains and strains are annual occurrences in the high-risk business of emergency response, and those, along with occasional illnesses, add up to lost-time costs. It is those costs the wellness program would be designed to lower, O'Connor said.
"We want to teach these guys about fitness and nutritional lifestyle habits," he said.
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