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The St. Francis Fire Department will be able to purchase as many as 15 new protective turnout suits to replace aging and worn-out equipment, thanks to a grant from Minneapolis-based Allianz Life Insurance Co.

Without the grant, the city would have had to fund the growing department's equipment needs by cutting elsewhere in the city budget, said City Administrator Matt Hylen.

The $16,545 grant will be used to purchase jackets and pants for current and incoming firefighters in the 23-member paid, on-call department. Most of the existing equipment was nine years old, and no longer met National Fire Protection Association or Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards. Turnout gear protects firefighters from excessive temperatures and environmental hazards.

"Our employees are still going to be safe out there," Hylen said. "We can't send them in ripped jackets and tattered pants into a chemical emergency."

Allianz representatives presented a check to the city at a ceremony last week.

Since 2004, the company has administered grants in collaboration with its sister Fireman's Fund Insurance Company. During that time, the Fireman's Fund has awarded more than $20 million in grants to fire departments for emergency equipment, training, and community education across the United States.

Allianz Life launched its own program, the Allianz Heritage Bucket Brigade last year, giving $40,000 to the Minneapolis Fire Department to replace gear damaged during the response to the I-35W bridge collapse.

Employees nominate departments in their own communities to receive grants from the $50,000 that Allianz makes available each quarter.

The St. Francis Fire Department was nominated by Mark Ruud, an Allianz employee who lives in neighboring East Bethel, whose wife works in St. Francis city government and was aware of the need for new equipment.

To date this year, the company has also awarded a $9,000 grant to Chanhassen for new air bottles and a $24,000 grant to Stacy for extraction equipment, also known as "the Jaws of Life." Last year, the program gave $75,000 in grants to North Branch, Little Falls, Coon Rapids, Buffalo, Minneapolis and Richton Park, Ill.

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409