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Willmar native donates exercise equipment to fire dept.

Willmar Fire Department employee Terrah Biegert, left, and Fire Chief Marv Clavin are pictured Friday with the new exercise equipment donated to the fire department by a Chanhassen businessman who grew up in Willmar. Tribune photo by Bill Zimmer

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Fire Department now has exercise equipment that firefighters can use to maintain their fitness level.

The department received a commercial-grade treadmill and step machine on Monday, according to Fire Chief Marv Calvin. The donation was made by Willmar native Peter Taunton, who now lives in Chanhassen. Taunton operates the Snap Fitness chain of fitness clubs.

"Our goal is to have our firefighters be more fit," Calvin said. The department had budgeted $5,600 for exercise equipment. However, those funds were cut from the city's budget, he added. Mayor Les Heitke then stepped in to seek private donations and Taunton became involved.

The two pieces of equipment are in the lower level lounge at the fire house.

The next goal is to get some free weights so firefighters can add weight training to their cardio workouts. The department is comprised of 43 paid firefighters, who work are on-call. There are also three office staff members. All will have 24-hour access to the machines.

"If you save one person from having a heart attack, it's worth it," Calvin said. "This will serve use well for a long time."

Nationally, the number one cause of "in the line of duty" injury is a cardiovascular event, to include heart attacks, Calvin said. The department identified the goal of getting its own fitness equipment in 2002 and started working toward it.

About six weeks ago, Taunton says he got a call from local businessman Walt Gislason, who asked if he might know of where the city could get some fitness equipment. Taunton agreed to donate the machines and also arranged for their delivery.

"Any chance I have to give back, I do it. I learned so much from folks (in Willmar)," Taunton said Friday from a trade show in Miami, where he was promoting his chain of fitness stores. Snap Fitness has grown to 1,700 franchises in four years and operates in the U.S., Canada and India. A Willmar location recently opened on First Street, one of 20 to 40 stores opening each month, he said.

"I have such fond memories of growing up in Willmar," Taunton said. "I'm happy to help."