Fire department receives $712,500 grant

Nathan Domenighini

In the midst of budget preparations and building a new fire department headquarters, the Morton Fire Department released news that offered respite for officials looking to budget money to pay for a refurbished aerial unit.

On Feb. 4, Morton fire chief Joe Kelley announced the department will receive a $712,500 federal grant to go toward a new aerial unit for the fire department.

The department’s current aerial unit, which is about 30 years old, is currently undergoing maintenance. It would have been needed to extinguish last week’s fire at the former Pioneer Seed building on Main Street.

Instead, an East Peoria aerial unit was requested to help extinguish the small fire, which started on the second level of the deteriorating facility undergoing demolition work.

The grant will save the village a considerable amount of money, compared to purchasing a new chassis for the department’s current aerial unit, which village officials anticipated costing about $900,000.

Officials considered budgeting about $450,000 to pay for a complete overhaul of Morton’s only aerial unit. As a result of the grant, that amount can be drastically reduced and Kelley can pursue a new unit rather than a refurbished one.

Currently, the cost of a new aerial unit can reach upward of $900,000, Kelley said.

He said he and fellow village officials aggressively pursued the large grant for several years, even though they were constantly warned the likelihood of receiving such a grant was very minimal.

“We’ve actually applied for this grant for the past three years,” Kelley said. “This year, we used a grant writer out of Texas.”

He said the hired grant writer, who cost a couple hundred dollars, was pessimistic of the department’s chances of receiving such a large federal grant.

“Even the grant writer said, ‘You’re not going to get this,’” Kelley said. “I have persisted, despite that.

“This is a huge amount, and there are very few of them that come out,” he said.

Congressman Aaron Schock’s (R-18th District) office notified Kelley of the news Feb. 4, just hours after firefighters responded to the fire at the former Pioneer Seed building.

The grant is the third largest awarded to a fire department this year, Kelley said.

“There have been over 3,200 federal grants for fire departments this fiscal year,” he said. “To date, only two of those grants have exceeded the amount we are receiving. Two others match that amount. Those are all grants under the same program for fire departments.”

Two other local fire departments, Peoria Heights and Toluca, also received grants in smaller amounts.

“We knew we were going to have to replace the apparatus (to the current aerial unit),” Kelley said. After receiving the $712,500 grant, repairs are no longer necessary — the village can start looking for a new unit.

Since the amount does not completely cover the cost of a new unit, the village will have to contribute the difference, he added.

Morton Mayor Norm Durflinger was thrilled to hear the village received such a large grant.

“It’s fantastic,” he said.

Durflinger said he was looking to start a fire engine depreciation account to help pay for common maintenance to the village’s fire engines.

“This has decreased the amount of money we will have to put in that fund for the next two years,” Durflinger said.

Durflinger credited Kelley for being aggressive and he thanked those involved in Schock’s office.

Since officials began to pursue the grant several years ago, former Congressman Ray LaHood was part of the effort. When Schock was sworn in, his office, with the help of Carol Merna, was able to secure the grant that had been requested for years.

Durflinger gave Merna a lot of credit.

“She was extremely caring and she wanted to help the best she could,” he said.