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Oil companies help with the bill as Keene upgrades rescue equipment

KEENE -- The Keene Fire Department gave its emergency response equipment a $150,000 upgrade with help from McKenzie County, an energy impact grant -- and oil companies.

The department bought a new fire truck and extrication tools for getting people out of crashed cars, "Jaws of Life"-style. It reached out to about a hundred oil companies for funding help, and 20 came back with a total of $51,850, said Lloyd Alveshere of the Keene Fire Department.

"They're involved in a lot of the wrecks," Fire Chief John Rolfsrud said.

Watford City and New Town have extrication tools, but those towns are both about 25 miles away. Rolfsrud said his department is in the process of doing paperwork to get firefighters certified to use the tools.

Calls to the McKenzie County Rural Fire District increased from 52 in 2006 to 179 in 2011, mostly due to oil activity and population growth, according to the letter Rolfsrud sent asking oil companies to donate to the project.

In the March 2012 letter, he tells companies that funding the project is "important for you, your employees, and our growing community."

Fire departments in the state are "pretty much up against a wall" when it comes to funding equipment upgrades, said Renee Loh, executive director of the North Dakota Firefighter's Association.

She said it's "worthy" that oil companies donate funds and the association appreciates the impact grants, but departments are still struggling, like with out-of-date extrication tools.

Several cities and counties have received energy impact grants for extrication tools or training in the past few years.

The "extrication tool can spread or pop off doors, or cut roofs off of cars," North Dakota Highway Patrol Capt. Kyle Kirchmeier said.

"Because of more traffic, we end up having more crashes," he said. "There's many times that these tools are very useful."