The Merrill Fire Department was notified Friday of a grant award of $34,475 from the US Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighter Grant (AFG) Program. The grant provides funding for the Fire Department’s Wellness / Fitness Program for firefighters. 
The Fire Department routinely seeks outside funding opportunities to leverage and stretch city and Fire Department funding. Over the last 11 years, the department has been awarded more than $350,000 in funding from FEMA in varying amounts to purchase needed equipment, including new firefighting turnout gear, portable radios, thermal imaging cameras, emergency response pagers, a vehicle exhaust removal system cardiac monitor as well as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. All the funding from these grants has enhanced the response capacity for the fire department as they work to protect the citizens.            
Every year across the country, heart attacks and strokes are responsible for killing 50 percent of the firefighters who die on duty. Being physically fit is critical. Not only does it lead to a healthier lifestyle, it can help balance the increased amount of physical and mental stress firefighters deal with on a daily basis. Firefighting duties require physical strength and endurance therefore; each Merrill Firefighter/Paramedic is encouraged to perform 60 minutes of cardio and strength training during downtime on each duty shift. Studies have shown that a regular fitness regime can have a dramatic impact on firefighter wellness, with up to 71 percent fewer work-related injuries, a 43 percent reduction in sick leave, and a 25 to 45 percent reduction in sprain/strain injuries. 
The Assistance to Firefighter Grant funding will be used to enhance the Merrill Firefighter Occupational Wellness and Fitness Program. Components of this grant award include a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1582 Firefighter Medical Physicals, NFPA 1500 Behavior Health Programs, Analyzation of Immunizations and Peer Fitness Trainer.
Fire Chief Dave Savone said, “We are extremely grateful that FEMA has awarded us this grant funding. With these funds we will be able to continue our commitment to the wellness-fitness of our firefighter.”
The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program assists local fire departments in programs and activities to improve the effectiveness of firefighting operations through specialized emergency training for response to situations like terrorist attacks; enhancement of emergency medical services programs; development of health and safety initiatives; establishment of fire education and prevention programs; creation of wellness and fitness programs; and equipment and facility upgrades. The grants are awarded on a competitive basis to the applicants that most closely address the program's priorities and demonstrate financial need.  
“We are happy to have the opportunity to be proactive in staying fit and healthy” said Chief Savone. “A firefighter’s job can be extremely challenging, both physically and mentally, and by providing them with new Peer Fitness Training exercise programs and NFPA 1582 Physicals, we hope to help them make fitness and health a top priority.” 
The Merrill Fire Department is an all-hazard emergency response organization that provides Fire Protection to the City of Merrill, the Towns of Merrill, Rock Falls and Scott.  The Department also provides Advanced Life Support Emergency Medical Services for the southern 59% of Lincoln County including the City of Merrill, the Towns of Birch, Corning, Harding, Merrill, Pine River, Rock Falls, Russell, Schley, Scott and parts of Harrison. The coverage area for EMS is more than 525 square miles with a population in excess of 20,000 residents.