Forest Fire Protection Grants Help Equip Local Fire Departments

If a wildfire breaks out at one of Door County’s state parks, it’s the local fire departments that pick up the hose and put out the flame.

“If you have a 20-mile-an-hour wind blowing, that fire can be moving at 10 to 20 miles per hour,” said Steven Schopf, Egg Harbor fire chief. “You can get overcome by fire real quick if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

While that puts extra pressure on local fire departments, the cooperative agreements departments have with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) make them eligible for Forest Fire Protection grants to buy equipment to deal with wildfires on public property.

“I’m really glad to have it,” Schopf said. “It really helps small departments out to get equipped.”

Four Northern Door fire departments received funding this year. Baileys Harbor received $5,572.50, Egg Harbor received $2,821.84, Gibraltar received $1,144.25 and the Sister Bay-Liberty Grove fire department received $2,162.00.

Since 2011, fire departments in Door County have received $35,258.17 in Forest Fire Protection grants, which are match grants. Fire departments have to find ways to match the amount of money they’re given from the DNR, so if a department got $1,000 worth of funding, it has to come up with $1,000 itself to buy $2,000 of equipment.

Chris Hecht, fire chief for Gibraltar and Sister Bay-Liberty Grove fire departments, said the Gibraltar fire department will use money donated to the department to match the Forest Fire Protection grant.

“We just get fantastic community support, and in return for that we try to be very judicious with the money,” Hecht said.

The Gibraltar Fire Department asked for grant funding to purchase personal protective equipment like hard hats and chain saw chaps, tools like hoses and nozzles, and radios.

Schopf said the Egg Harbor fire department will purchase helmets, eye protection and respiratory filters with its funds. He plans to write another grant next year to get the lightweight boots, gloves and other equipment designed for fighting wildfires.

Although the equipment purchased with the grant funding has to be designed for fighting outdoor, uncontained fires, not structure fires, the department can use it for any project.

“If we get a big wind storm and a bunch of trees blow over on the roadways, we can use the hard hats and the chainsaw chaps,” said Hecht.

Wildfires happen in Door County, but are usually kept under control. Schopf said the Egg Harbor fire department was called out to a grass fire started by fireworks in the Horseshoe Bay area in July. Schopf and Hecht both said small wildfires are common, and big ones break out every few years.

“Every department typically has two or three a year, they just aren’t huge,” Hecht said. “Grass fires are not uncommon and wildland fires are not uncommon, but we typically get them reported pretty quickly.”