NM fire stations finally get fire sprinklers

A more than half-million-dollar grant will fund fire sprinkler systems for five fire stations

By Elizabeth Piazza
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON, N.M. — Five of the six Farmington fire stations, despite advocating for sprinkler systems as one of the No. 1 prevention tools in fire safety, are not following their own advice.

"We preach fire sprinklers safety to the public," Fire Chief Terry Page said. "It's time we stopped being hypocritical and practice what we preach. To the best of our knowledge, nobody has ever died from a fire in a sprinkler building across the United States."

Five stations within Farmington's fire district stations 1 through 5 were constructed without sprinkler systems inside, Page said.

A more than half-million-dollar grant, however, awarded to the agency by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, will remedy the situation.

The department received $566,088 through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant, most of which is planned to fund the sprinkler systems at stations 1 through 5.

Station 6, located on U.S. 64 across from La Plata Highway, is the only station built equipped with a sprinkler system.

Completed in 2006, the newest of the six stations was equipped with sprinklers because, at the time of construction, updated fire codes required sprinklers for that type of occupancy and size of building, Page said.

Because it is more expensive to retrofit a station with sprinklers than it is to put them in during the initial construction, without the grant money, the department would not be able to afford the new safety measures, Page said.

Farmington Fire Department's 2010 budget hovered just under $8 million, the majority of which is used to fund salaries and benefits, Page said.

About half of the remaining $1 million comes from the city's general fund and the other $500,000 comes from the state's fire fund monies generated by tax revenue.

The federal funds also will purchase a new breathing compressor used to fill air bottles for firefighters. The department applies annually for a slew of different grants to help fund the agency's needs, Firefighter Dennis Bugg said.

A department applying for funds from the Assistance to Firefighters Grant must go through three different reviews, in which departments nationwide are weeded out.

The agency awarded funds must match 10 percent of the money. In Farmington's case, officials are responsible for more than $62,000 to receive the grant.

Additionally, funds must be used for their requested purpose and used within a specific time frame, Bugg said. Any unused money must be returned.

The department in 2009 was awarded more than $186,000, which was used to add diesel exhaust systems meant to cut down on the air pollution from the fire engines, Page said.

The grant money, in tougher economic times, is crucial to the department.

"We've done a lot of tightening up our belts and sought a lot of outside funds," Bugg said.

Despite a tough economic climate, the department continues to keep layoffs and furloughs at bay compared to other departments across the nation, which has shut the doors on some stations.

"We rely on the grant funds to keep us at the level we are at right now," Page said. "Our service to the public has not been affected."

It likely will be six months before the sprinkler systems are installed.

"It does save lives," Page said of the sprinklers. "The odds are you may never need it but the one time you do need it, it will save your life in that situation."

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