Calvin Dhont backed his City of Kellogg utility truck and lined up the hitch with a trailer carrying a giant camouflaged generator.
A volunteer with the Kellogg Fire Department, Dhont was prepping to haul the diesel/liquid propane-line powered unit from the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office to his hometown.
The generator is one of five donated from U.S. military surplus, secured by the sheriff’s office. Dhont said Kellogg Fire has a small generator, but nothing to provide enough power to feed and house the entire community at its Holmdel Park shelter.
“It’s going to be beneficial if we ever need it, trust me,” Dhont said. “It’s nice to have it because if we have a disaster, we have a little shelter house we call the cabin — the monkey house — at Holmdel Park, we have access for power. It’s on (liquid propane), so there’s always gas, heat, electricity and air conditioning.”
The generators were acquired through the 1033 program, a federal initiative that allows law enforcement agencies to request and receive U.S. military surplus via an online catalog at no charge and on a first come, first served basis from the U.S. Department of Defense. The generators were stored at the Iowa National Guard base Camp Dodge in Johnston before making their way Tuesday to Newton.
Colfax, Mingo and Kellogg each received a generator to be stationed within their city limits. Sully and Reasnor will share a generator, stored between the towns in the county, and one will be placed with Jasper County Emergency Management as a power backup at the county community center in Newton.
They’ll be used to power fire stations, shelters and other essential services in Jasper County’s rural communities during natural disasters or long-term power outages.
“People often don’t realize how dependent we are on power. Especially in the winter, you lose power for just a short period of time, your water lines could freeze,” said John Halferty, Jasper County sheriff. “These smaller communities, they have shelters but if the shelters don’t have any power, then that doesn’t help as much. Sometimes we get too dependent on power, but we do have a responsibility.”
Halferty’s office sent the mayors in each receiving community a memorandum of understanding, outlining parameters for receiving the generators.
Halferty said the JCSO will maintain ownership of the generators because the program requires his department undergo a federal audit, but maintenance and fuel for the generators will be up to the cities.
The memorandum also requires the cities and fire departments to transport the generators to nearby towns that request assistance in the case of a long-term power outage, as long as the generators are not in use locally. The cities will also have to install manual transfer boxes in the structure they need to power to switch from the grid to the generator.
The generators cost $53,500 each new, which puts the total value of the donation at $267,500, minus some depreciation for use and age.
Halferty said there were 15 units available by request. The sheriff’s office asked for the 1033 program for five, only expecting to receive two or three and were surprised when all five generators were donated.
“You have to write a justification,” Halferty said. “My justification was, we’re going to spread it out, we’re going to power community fire stations or shelters in the event of long-term power loss.”
The sheriff’s office submitted its request for the generators before the tornadic activity in July, but for Jasper County first responders, the destruction in Marshalltown, Pella and Bondurant brought the importance of available emergency power in the county’s small towns to the forefront.
“We put in the request, and within a couple weeks, we had the tornado issue, and it kind of reinforced the need to have resources available in various communities,” Halferty said.
Jasper County Emergency Management Director Jim Sparks said the generators’ impact would be significant during an event affecting multiple communities at once.
“Like the ice storms a few years back, when a couple of the communities were out of power for days during the winter time, this would give us a lot of flexibility to open up community centers for people to come in and get warm, information and a meal,” Sparks said. “Right now, we don’t have the capability to do that in multiple communities.”
The sheriff’s office has utilized the 1033 program in the past and was met with some controversy in 2014 when they requested and received a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle — or MRAP.
The push back prompted the JCSO at the time to clarify its need for the vehicle, but Halferty said the 1033 program is a good way for local law enforcement to get all types of field and office equipment while saving taxpayers money.
“You can get everything from filing cabinets to MRAPs. You can even get weapons, which was the hot topic a couple years ago. ... If government agencies can’t utilize this stuff, eventually it goes to civilian contractors who bid for it. I’m not against that, but our tax dollars went to purchase this stuff. If we can utilize it for a few more years, that’s a good thing.”
Contact Mike Mendenhall at 641-792-3121 Ext 6230 or at firstname.lastname@example.org