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Feven Getachew
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Harvey Wilhelm
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Grinnell hosts firefighters convention first time in 50 years

The Grinnell Fire Department is hosting the annual Iowa Firefighters Association Convention, which runs from September 3 to 7 and and has brought over 2,500 firefighters and their family members from all over Iowa to Grinnell.

The Iowa Firefighters Association Convention has been held annually since 1878 and celebrates the achievements of Iowa’s fire safety service.  Events over the four-day convention include dinners and dances for the firefighters, sports competitions, firefighting skill-based competitions and a parade of fire trucks.

Grinnell has not hosted the convention in 50 years, despite at least one serious effort.

“Twenty years ago … it was the closest vote between two cities, Grinnell and Manchester,” said Grinnell Fire Department’s Assistant Fire Chief, Dan Walker. Walker is also a member of the convention’s executive board. “We lost by 160 votes … out of 4,500 people.”

This time the nomination process ran more smoothly.

“Now, just because of that, and the work that it takes to put into it, if you say ‘We would like to run in 2014,’ you would get it, because everyone knows the heartbreak it is,” Walker said. “When we announced that we were running, there was someone else that was thinking about it; they didn’t even run. They pulled their name.”

Of course, before the Grinnell Fire Department talked to other fire departments about hosting, members of the Grinnell community cleared the idea.

“Before we even ran, [we had to] get the blessing from the city mayor, from the city manager,” Walker said. 

He added, “The council was very reactive as to ‘Yes, we want that’ … the cooperation from the Chamber, because they are the supporters … that was the collective group that said ‘Yes, we are all interested, we are hands in.’”

Grinnell’s Chamber of Commerce was equally supportive of this momentous event, especially because large events are great for Grinnell businesses and tourism. 

“We printed ‘welcome firefighter’ posters that are displayed at a lot of our businesses … and then our retail group is also doing a shopping promotion specific for the firefighters in town,” said Emily Counts, Tourism Director for the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve fielded a ton of information requests over the last couple weeks from different fire departments … questions about where can they get breakfast, or where can they buy a t-shirt.”

“We’re so thrilled and honored to be able to host,” Counts said. “Many of [the firefighters] have never been to Grinnell and we hope that they’ll have a great experience here … and they’ll think of us when they’re thinking about a future vacation.”

Firefighters attending the convention are excited for varied reasons. According to Walker, some are seeking recognition for their skills.

“It’s kind of like the Olympics, you get points for everything that you win and everywhere you place, and then there’s an overall trophy. There are probably four fire departments that every year … their goal is to win and bring the overall trophy home,” said Walker. “It’s quite interesting, how fierce of a competition it is.”

However, most convention attendees have a less competitive goal in mind, attending competitions for fun comaraderie and the Iowa Firefighters Memorial fund.

“The people that are actually coming for the convention, their highlights are probably the Thursday and Friday contests … anybody can be in them. It’s more of a fun deal. They pay five dollars per team … and in Coralville, Iowa, there is the Iowa Firefighters Memorial … that money goes directly to the Iowa Firefighters Memorial,” Walker said.

Besides the events and fundraising, many firefighters are also looking forward to meeting with other firefighters in Iowa.

“[The convention] lets fire departments from all over the state get together [and] tell their stories, what happened, the good things and the bad things … it’s a time for them to sit and unwind,” Walker said.

Firefighters Craig Alexander of Russell, Iowa, and Les Taylor of Brooklyn, Iowa, echo Walker’s sentiments; both firefighters also gave positive reviews of Grinnell’s “wonderful” hosting of the annual convention.

“I’ve went to a convention since 1992,” Alexander said. “[I look forward to] seeing some guys I only see once a year from other departments.”

“[I’m excited for] fellowship,” Taylor said.

While some of the convention events are private, many events Saturday are open to the public. There will be firefighter competition events in Central Park starting at 8 a.m., and a parade around the area of First Avenue, Main Street and Fourth Avenue at 6:30 p.m. The parade will feature fire trucks ranging from horse-drawn antiques to brand new models. 

Interested attendees can see a schedule of events at:



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