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A Calling to Protect Community

Winneshiek County Community Foundation
April 27, 2017

Like the majority of small town fire departments, the Fort Atkinson Fire Department is completely volunteer driven. In small towns across Iowa, funding for staff is not always possible, so it is up to town citizens to volunteer their lives for the safety of their community and its residents, and for groups like the Winneshiek County Community Foundation to help keep them safe.

“The thing about it all is that our volunteers care about the community. They are community-minded and care about the welfare of their neighbors and friends. It’s the commitment to be there to help others – that’s the key. If people weren’t committed to it or didn’t enjoy it or didn’t want to give something back, we would all be real hurt.,” said Fort Atkinson Fire Department Chief, Ron Franzen.

Franzen has been Fort Atkinson’s Fire Chief for 41 years and remains passionate about his community, his duties, and the safety of his firefighters. According to Franzen, today’s busier world makes recruiting volunteers more challenging than ever and departments across the county struggle to keep a full staff.county struggle to keep a full staff.

Because of the shortage, local departments often unite, lending a hand during emergencies to neighboring communities and counties if needed. The Fort Atkinson’s Fire Department is also called upon for more than just fires. In any given crisis, the department can be alerted for assistance because, in small towns, fire departments are often the most organized group.

“We get called upon to help with accidents, traffic, to transfer patients with the medical team. We wear more than one hat. It’s gotten more sophisticated or complicated throughout the years. We have the capability to interact with law enforcement if need be. It’s the mainstay of the communities,” said Fort Atkinson Volunteer Fire Department Chief, Ron Franzen.

The importance of the services provided does not always equate to the necessary funding to support the Fire Department’s function. That is why support from the Winneshiek County Community Foundation is vital.

Each year, the Fort Atkinson Fire Department takes inventory of their gear to determine what needs the grant application should address.

Over the years, the fire department has received grants that have gone toward refurbishing a truck, thermal imagining cameras, a gas meter, radio equipment and continued updated of the safety gear worn by the crew. From the Community Foundation specifically, the department has received four grants totaling over $15,000. Each item purchased through grants has gone directly into improving the safety of the firefighters and the communities they serve. This year, they updated uniforms.

“It’s not that the gear we have is worn out because we aren’t out there like a big city department. But things change in the materials used and safety standards. It’s recommended to update for these improvements for our safety,” said Franzen.

“It’s hard to say thanks enough for what the Community Foundation has done. When it helps the membership of a fire department, it helps everyone in the whole community,” said Franze.