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Keweenaw County Board accepts training grant

EAGLE RIVER — The Keweenaw County Board, at its regular meeting on June 15, unanimously voted to accept a grant from the Michigan Department of Treasury for the First Responder Training and Recruitment grant program in the amount of $82,172.

The purpose of the program is to support efforts of local governments to expand recruitment, improve training, and provide additional professional development and support to first responders in local governments, according to michigan.gov website.

All Michigan cities, villages, townships, counties and/or fire authorities were eligible to apply. First responder includes law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics and local unit of government corrections officers.

Criteria for qualification includes:

• A completed application with detailed information;

• The governmental unit was asked to demonstrate how budgeted costs directly relate to recruitment or training of first responders;

• Priority was given to projects that will be completed by Sept. 30;

• Projects are funded on a reimbursement basis;

• $2 million was designated for communities with a per capita property taxable value of less than $15,000 with the remaining funds awarded based on a review of applications and the determination of the effective use of and need for the 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 be completely operational soon.

Pennala first began exploring the formation of a dedicated search and rescue unit after a rescue in July 2021 of two people from Porter’s Island near Copper Harbor after they were forced to beach their inflatable raft in high seas, leaving them stranded for several hours.

Over a number of years, tourism has increased significantly, and searches and rescues have increased proportionately, Pennala said. Part of the problem facing organizations in each township has been personnel limitations.

“We already have a lot of the necessary equipment,” Pennala said, “and obviously, additional things are needed, but the added equipment would be dual-purpose between both patrol and search and rescue also.”

Currently, the department owns a patrol boat, the personal watercraft, which has already been used in a number of rescues that without it, probably would have ended with fatalities. The department also is equipped with snowmobiles. Equipment added, if possible, would be dual-purpose items that the county currently lacks.

A major element of concern for the department is that due to the attractions and the topographical features of the Keweenaw Peninsula, it draws a lot of outdoor enthusiasts, Pennala said, among them, rock climbers.

During the planning and organizational phase of the search and rescue unit, he said, the sheriff’s office received a request from a group to become involved in high-angle rescue.

High-angle rescue operations involve terrains with slopes of 60 degrees or greater, according to Elite Rescue Technical Services.

Another valuable asset the department has to its credit is K-9 Corporal Dogo, a cross-trained dog, which, with his handler, Sgt. Brad Pelli, has already proven his search and rescue skills several times.

In a May interview, Keweenaw County Undersheriff Tanya Stefanich said that one of the things under consideration is sponsoring somebody 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’re hoping that we can sponsor somebody through that police academy, and when they graduate from the academy, they will come and work for the sheriff’s office,” she said.

The remaining money will be applied to training the department’s officers, she said.

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