Janesville73°

Grant will help Turtle firefighters

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ANN MARIE AMES
December 30, 2007
— It’s not cheap to equip a turtle.

Especially one that fights fires.


The Town of Turtle Fire Department earned a $17,500 Assistance to Firefighters grant earlier this month.


When the department’s annual operating budget is $50,000, the federal grant will go a long way toward new coats, boots, gloves, helmets and pagers, chief Tim Huffman said.


“We really couldn’t afford new gear without it,” he said.


In addition to the operating budget, the department has a $30,000 annual fire truck payment, he said.


The department is strictly volunteer. Huffman, who works as a builder, is the only paid firefighter in Turtle.


He gets $2,000 per year.


The towns of Turtle and Beloit are the only two in Rock County with their own fire departments.


So what does a town of 2,400 people need with a 27-member department like Turtle’s?


The answer, Huffman said, is Interstate highways and requests for mutual aid.


Since 2003, vehicle crashes or fires have made up 19 percent of the department’s responses.


So far in 2007, the department made 41 runs to Interstate 90/39 or Interstate 43 as well as seven runs to state highways.


A recent call resulting from a car crash was the worst Huffman had seen in his 27 years with the department.


Saturday, after the department had made two runs to a snowy I-90/39, a driver on Shopiere Road lost control and hit a 4-inch gas main.


“At least two people told me they went outside and looked up to see where the jet was falling,” Huffman said.


The accident happened at 10 p.m. Saturday. With help from the Rock County Sheriff’s Department, firefighters evacuated 289 homes along Shopiere and Lathers roads.


The power company got gas restored at 9 a.m. Sunday, Huffman said.


Then firefighters and a sheriff’s deputy went into each home to relight pilot lights in stoves and furnaces. A locksmith got them into the homes they couldn’t access.


“It was really serious,” Huffman said.


They had everything under control at 4 p.m. Sunday, he said.


An even bigger chunk of the department’s runs—22 percent—are responses to mutual aid requests from Clinton, Beloit, Harlem/Roscoe and town of Beloit departments, Huffman said.


Other departments often call for backup from Turtle’s two tankers.


“That’s what we know best,” Huffman said. “We don’t have any fire hydrants. Not one.”


Huffman said the $17,500 federal grant will supplement support from town residents.


“I’ve never known of a town that backs up a department like us,” Huffman said.


Two years ago, when the department wanted a thermal imaging camera, he put out fliers asking for donations.


It was the first time he’d tried it, Huffman said.


In two weeks, he had $5,000.



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