Leader Blues

Thursday, January 31, 2008

TOP STORY >> Cities will get FEMA checks for firefighters

By JOAN MCCOY & ALIYA FELDMAN
Leader staff writers

Sherwood and Cabot Fire Departments will be awarded nearly $200,000 to buy equipment, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced.

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) is given to local fire departments and emergency medical services organizations nationally, and will provide $490 million to fire departments and emergency medical services throughout the country this year.

Cabot will receive the grant for the first time, while Sherwood’s money is the third award from FEMA the city has received. Cabot Fire Chief Phil Robinson said he has applied for FEMA grants in the past with no success, but now that one grant application has been approved, he will certainly apply again. “We may have broken the code,” he said.

The city’s $37,046 grant will be used to buy two filling stations for the air tanks that keep firefighters alive when they are working in smoked-filled buildings. It will also pay for a backup generator for Fire Station 4 on Hwy. 321.

Robinson said he applied for the grant a year ago using information he learned in FEMA-sponsored workshops. Essentially, the agency knows what it expects to spend money on and grant applications tailored to meet those expectations stand a better chance of being approved, he said.

Robinson said the $1.1 million grant for a new ladder truck that he applied for two years ago was denied, perhaps because he was asking for too much or possibly because FEMA wasn’t paying for trucks that year.

This year, like last year, Robinson said he will find out what FEMA is willing to help pay for and then ask for that.

Sherwood’s fire department will receive $158,760 in grants to buy equipment compliant with National Fire Protection Association fire regulations.

“We’re going to buy air packs called self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA),” Assistant Fire Chief Mark Mahan said. Firefighters carry such oxygen tanks on their backs to enable them to continue breathing while in smoke-filled areas.

He said the number of SCBAs that the department will be able to buy with the FEMA grant is not yet clear. They cost between $5,000 and $6,000 apiece. The department’s current equipment is outdated. “The last time we purchased was in 2001,” Mahan said about the life-saving gear.
“What we have now does not meet current NFPA standards,” he said.

Sherwood applied specifically for FEMA’s help to buy the updated breathing equipment.
“It’s going to put our guys in safer air packs,” Mahan said. The new equipment will also be compatible during mutual-aid missions, when one city requires another’s help because of lack of staff or equipment.”

Mahan said surrounding cities, Jack-sonville, McAlmont and North Little Rock, have NFPA-approved breathing equipment. He said previous FEMA grants for Sherwood have previously been used to purchase a rescue truck and a vehicle exhaust vent.

FEMA’s undertaking is to provide support in disasters, which includes helping first responders serve their cities. The federal agency this week gave $17 million in grants to fire departments nationwide.

Besides Cabot and Sherwood, Sulpher Springs was the only other Arkansas city to receive a grant.
All of the cities received the grants to help purchase equipment. FEMA also gives cities the grants to help them obtain fire training and conduct first responder health and safety programs.