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$396K grant to buy firefighter safety equipment

The city of Springfield Fire/Rescue Division will receive about $396,000 in federal money to replace aging safety equipment.

The money will be used to purchase a new fleet of self-contained breathing apparatuses, which will cost about $486,000. The division will purchase 70 of the devices, as well as a personalized face mask for each firefighters.

“It’s something we were in dire need of,” said Andy Rigsbee, president of the Springfield Professional Firefighters, IAFF Local 333.

The grant will also pay for the purchase of four new rescue packs for victims, according to Fire Chief Nick Heimlich.

“It’s pretty much a complete replacement of our entire inventory of breathing apparatus equipment,” Heimlich said.

A self-contained breathing apparatus is worn by firefighters and other rescue personnel to provide breathable air in a dangerous atmosphere.

The current fleet of breathing equipment was purchased in 2000. It’s currently three standards behind those set by the National Fire Protection Association, Heimlich said, and the cylinders in the units are set to expire in January 2016.

“We had to determine whether we were going to try and eke more time out of the existing unit or upgrade the entire unit,” Heimlich said. “It was quite a bit of money either way we went, so we decided to apply for the grant for federal assistance.”

The equipment being replaced includes harnesses, regulators, cylinders and face pieces that are worn during an active fire situation. The equipment will be smaller, Heimlich said, making it more comfortable for firefighters. The division will also purchase a new fill chamber for high-pressure cylinders.

The city will use about $90,000 in local matching money to complete the grant, which was awarded as part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency Assistance to Firefighters Grants program.

The division’s budget is about $13.6 million per year, including fire service enhancement fund and general fund dollars, to cover personnel and operating costs. The division responded to more than 16,215 calls in 2013, including medic and fire runs.

The grant will free up money to spend on other capital items, such as fire engines, Heimlich said, and the city’s fleet of emergency vehicles continues to age.

“It helps us keep focused on moving forward on some level of a replacement program,” Heimlich said.

The grant money is the equivalent of one fire engine, he said.

“That’s a huge benefit to us,” Heimlich said. “Otherwise, I’d have to not buy the fire engine to do this.”

The city is doing all it can to maintain the fleet, Rigsbee said, but it gets harder the older the vehicles get.

“Every year that goes by, it becomes that much harder for them and that much harder for us,” Rigsbee said.

The Assistance to Firefighters Grants program helps firefighters improve their ability to protect the public and themselves. Projects that have received money include training, facility upgrades and modifications, and supplies such as protective equipment.

“Firefighters and first responders keep our communities safe in times of crisis,” said U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown in a statement. “These new federal resources will help ensure that Springfield’s skilled responders have the updated resources they need to safely do their jobs.”

The division focused its grant-writing efforts on replacing the breathing units. It will likely bid out the project by the end of the year.

The grant is huge for both firefighters and the community, Mayor Warren Copeland said.

“This is a valuable resource for the community and it’s great whenever we can get some help to pay for it,” Copeland said. “I’m really happy it happened.”

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