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Swanson will bring rural perspective to state firefighters training board

Detroit Lakes Fire Chief Jeff Swanson wants to make sure smaller fire departments across Minnesota have access to training funds.

"I want to make sure the smaller departments don't get left out of the mix," he said.

Earlier this month, Swanson was appointed to the 15-member Firefighter Training and Education Board by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

"He's got a wealth of experience," said John Hultquist, director of judicial, board and commission appointments for Pawlenty.

"Chief Swanson applied and was recommended by the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association, and their recommendation carries a lot of weight with us."

Swanson is filling out the term of former St. Paul Fire Chief Doug Holton, who left to become Milwaukee's fire chief. The term expires Jan. 4, 2010.

Swanson said he plans to attend the next meeting of the board on Sept. 18. The board meets every other month in Maple Grove.

As a volunteer fire chief running an all-volunteer department, Swanson will bring a different perspective to the training board.

For one thing, he's worried about smaller departments that lack the financial resources of the big fire departments.

"I personally feel training is too dependant on money," he said. "It used to be inexpensive, it used to be $35 for new firefighter class. Then the training system got changed, and now it costs several hundred dollars."

Larger fire departments are better equipped to land the grants that help pay for training expenses, he said. "There's training out there -- if you can afford it, it's very adequate," he said. "And if it's good training, they (firefighters) will take it."

To a certain extent, mid-sized departments like Detroit Lakes can train personnel by going out and doing the job -- fighting different types of fires, handling natural gas leaks and chemical spills as they occur, Swanson said.

But good training programs are essential for smaller rural fire departments that may not see enough action to provide adequate on-the-job training.

"Good training can keep small town volunteers enthused about what they're doing," he noted.

Firefighting is in Swanson's blood. He has been on the Detroit Lakes Fire Department for more than 30 years, joining as a firefighter in 1974.

He became a captain in 1976 and was named the assistant fire chief in 1982. He has served as the fire chief since 1986.

He estimates he puts about 20 hours a week into the volunteer position, which pays a stipend of about $6,000 a year.

"I do it because I love the fire service," he said.

He co-owns Swanson Repair Inc. and Swanson Repair and Rental in Detroit Lakes.

Swanson has long been involved in firefighting and emergency services organizations.

He is a member of the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association, serves on its board of directors, and is past chairman of the board as well as a past president.

He is also an emergency first responder and has worked for Dakota EMS/Detroit Lakes Ambulance Service.

The Board of Firefighter Training and Education reviews fire service training needs, sets standards for educational programs and establishes qualifications for training instructors.