EAGLE RIVER – The Keweenaw County Council at its June 15 regular meeting voted unanimously to accept a grant from the Michigan Treasury Department for the First Responder Training and Recruitment Grant Program. an amount of $82,172.
The purpose of the program is to support local government efforts to expand recruitment, improve training and provide additional professional development and support to local government first responders, according to the michigan.gov website.
All cities, towns, townships, counties and/or fire departments in Michigan were eligible to apply. First responders include law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics and the local government corrections officer unit.
Qualification criteria include:
• A completed application with detailed information;
• The government unit has been asked to demonstrate how the budgeted costs are directly related to the recruitment or training of first responders;
• Priority has been given to projects that will be completed by September 30;
• Projects are funded on a reimbursement basis;
• $2 million has been designated for communities with a per capita taxable property value of less than $15,000, with the remaining funds allocated based on a review of applications and determination of effective use and the need for grant funds.
For Keweenaw County, the grant award is timely. Sheriff Curt Pennala said earlier this week that a search and rescue unit he began planning last summer will soon be fully operational.
Pennala began exploring forming a dedicated search and rescue unit after the July 2021 rescue of two people from Porter’s Island near Copper Harbor after they were forced to beach their inflatable raft on the high seas, leaving them stranded for several hours.
Over several years, tourism has increased dramatically and search and rescue has increased commensurately, Pennala said. Part of the problem facing organizations in every township is lack of staff.
“We already have a lot of necessary equipment”, Pennal said, “And obviously additional things are needed, but the additional equipment would also be dual-purpose between patrol and search and rescue.”
Currently, the department has a patrol boat, the personal watercraft, which has already been used in a number of rescues which, without it, would likely have resulted in fatalities. The department is also equipped with snowmobiles. Equipment added, if possible, would be dual-purpose items that the county currently lacks.
A major area of concern for the department is that due to the Keweenaw Peninsula’s topographical features and attractions, it attracts a lot of outdoor enthusiasts, Pennala said, including rock climbers.
During the planning and organizing phase of the search and rescue unit, he said, the sheriff’s office received a request from a group to get involved in high-angle rescue. .
High-angle rescue operations involve terrain with slopes of 60 degrees or more, according to Elite Rescue Technical Services.
Another valuable asset the department has under its belt is K-9 Corporal Dogo, a versatile dog who, along with his handler, Sgt. Brad Pelli, has already proven his skills in search and rescue on several occasions.
In a May interview, Keweenaw County Deputy Sheriff Tanya Stefanich said one of the things being considered is sponsoring someone through one of the police academies.
Normally people go through the police academy and they pay their own way, Stefanich explained.
“With this grant, we hope we can sponsor someone through this police academy, and when they graduate from the academy, they will come to work for the sheriff’s office,” she says.
The remaining money will be applied to training officers in the department, she said.