Mass. fire dept. award $320K grant for SCBA gear

The grant allows the dept. to purchase 45 new SCBA units to replace the nearly 15-year-old ones

By Ray Lamont
Gloucester Daily Times

GLOUCESTER, Mass. — Steve Aiello says today's structure fires can pose more hazards to firefighters than those of even a few years ago.

"Almost all of your furnishings have some form of plastics to them," says Aiello, a deputy chief with the Gloucester Fire Department, "so the smoke is much more toxic and deadly than it was years ago."

Firefighters are required by department policy to strap on their self-contained breathing apparatus — or SCBA gear — whenever they arrive at a scene and see smoke showing, Aiello says. Yet most of Gloucester's SCBA packs are nearly 15 years old, and provide air cylinders that last 30 minutes, not the 45 minutes now recommended under national fire safety standards.

That won't be the case much longer. Gloucester and its Fire Department have been awarded $323,091 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency under an Assistance to Firefighters grant that will allow for the purchase of 45 new SCBA units. Each pack will include a harness, backpack and face mask. Also being purchased are 38 additional masks to more than account for each department member.

The grant request was written by Fire Capt. Tom LoGrande, and was put through with the backing of Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken and the City Council, which approved extending a 10 percent match of $32,309. The firefighters assistance grants have been awarded by FEMA since 2001, with an eye toward helping firefighters and other first responders obtain critically needed equipment, gear, emergency vehicles, training and other resources.

"This grant allows the Fire Department to complete necessary upgrades to their equipment so that firefighters can do their job safely and effectively," Romeo Theken said. "Thank you to FEMA for this generous allocation."

City Council President Joe Ciolino said he and other councilors viewed the grant request as essential.

"We were getting into a period where the life cycle for this type of equipment was just about to run out," he said, "so our sense was to support this and hope this grant came through, or to find some way to fund it out of free cash because we knew this was something that needed to be done. Our firefighters deserve nothing less, and we saw this as being at a crossroads."

Fire Chief Eric Smith said the grant represents a significant boost for the department and the community.

"This team effort led by Capt. LoGrande shows the strong commitment of the members of the Gloucester Fire Department to provide first-class public safety to our community while ensuring the safety of first responders," Smith said. LoGrande was on vacation Monday and could not be reached for comment. The initial grant request was for $420,000, Smith said, but included requests for additional training, computer and testing equipment that was deemed non-essential.

Aiello said the new equipment won't arrive for perhaps another three to four months. The awarding of the grant, he said, essentially gives the department the green light to order the gear. He said the firefighters appreciate the unified support of other city departments in working to see the grant, and the matching fund, through.

The 45-minute capability in terms of air supply doesn't mean firefighters will be expected to stay longer inside a burning building, or in heavy smoke. It should mean that any firefighter who becomes trapped or disoriented within a fire scene will have more time to escape if necessary, such as when an order comes to pull back.

"It gives us more air and it gives us more time," Aiello said. "Both of those are important when you're at a fire scene."

Copyright 2016 the Gloucester Daily Times

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