The receiving of a $205,868 federal grant for new equipment including air packs will have Mount Airy Fire Department members breathing a little easier in life-or-death situations.
City Fire Chief Zane Poindexter was notified in late August that the funding had been approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), through its 2014 Assistant to Firefighters Grant Program.
The money will be used for the replacement of 26-self-contained breathing apparatus units, with extra breathing cylinders, new face pieces and voice amplifiers, which are essential to firefighting efforts, especially when enclosed areas are involved.
In addition, the FEMA grant will enable the city fire department to buy a Quantifit Respirator Fit-Testing machine so it can prepare firemen’s breathing masks to provide optimum protection during a blaze.
Since the grant requires local matching funds of $10,293, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners will consider a budget amendment during its meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. to provide that amount. A vote by the commissioners to accept the grant also is on Thursday’s agenda.
The total cost of the equipment upgrade will be $216,161, counting the grant and the local match.
When city officials applied for the FEMA funds late last year, a total of $266,550 for 30 self-contained breathing apparatus units was involved.
“The overall grant was reduced,” the fire chief explained regarding the change in scope.
“We are still very fortunate and truly thankful to be awarded the amount we were,” Poindexter added in light of previous FEMA grant attempts. “We’ve applied several times and not gotten anything.”
In the past, the Mount Airy Department has sought funding for apparatus needs. “Those are the most competitive,” Poindexter said.
For the most recent grant application, however, the department focused on operations and safety, which proved to be successful.
The breathing units, or air packs, now in use were bought in 2003 and 2004 and are showing signs of wear, Poindexter said.
He mentioned that the grant funding will allow city firefighters to function in a newer and safer environment. “And that’s always a plus for our line of work.”
Getting the grant also will offset the need to provide the equipment with local dollars. “We had started a replacement plan for our air packs in our budget,” the fire said, which was aimed at supplying the breathing apparatus units for one city fire truck per year.
But now the equipment can be added much faster. If the commissioners approve the local match and accept the grant Thursday night, the department will proceed with ordering the equipment and will submit a payment request to the federal agency.
“We’re just extremely excited,” Poindexter said.
Meanwhile, the Quantifit Respirator Fit-Testing system to be provided through the grant, with a price tag of about $13,000, will be a big plus for the department, the fire chief said.
Whenever firemen plan to wear an air pack in an emergency situation, they’re supposed to have their masks fit-tested, Poindexter explained. The masks are meant to provide a seal all around one’s face to offer full protection when entering a burning building.
While a medium-size standard mask works for most individuals, in some cases a larger type can be needed to conform to the contours of a person’s face. If a firefighter wears glasses, the fit of the mask must account for those, also, including a space for the glasses to be mounted.
Fit-testing allows every department member to know which size mask needs to be worn when emergencies occur.
This testing process involves having a firefighter wear a mask and being checked while undergoing various motions to make sure the fit will be correct in any situation, including bending over.
A computer measures whether the seal is broken as a result of the testing.
This process also determines whether masks need to be re-sized for particular individuals.
Lacking its own Quantifit Respirator Fit-Testing machine, the Mount Airy Fire Department has been forced to rent such a device, which sometimes amounts to several occasions per year at a cost of $300 to $400 each.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693.