DCR Commissioner Jack Murray, left, New Marlborough Selectwoman Michele Shalaby, Great Barrington Fire Chief Charlie Burger, state Sen. Benjamin Downing and state Rep. William 'Smitty' Pignatelli on Wednesday for the grant announcement.
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — The volunteer Fire Department has had some trouble in rural areas dragging hoses to the scene of a fire. But not for long.
The department is ordering three forestry backpacks and nozzles to help extend their hoses. And with a cost of $1,500, they received help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
"It's a matching grant and they're funding $750 of it," said Chief Charlie Burger.
State Department of Conservation and Recreational Commissioner Jack Murray on Wednesday announced that and similar grants to volunteer departments throughout Western Massachusetts. Murray said $68,000 in grants are being dispersed to 41 communities in the state.
"All of these communities are rural communities," Murray said. "Typically they are small communities under 10,000 residents. [The recipients] are all nonprofit, rural call, volunteer fire departments."
The departments will use to the matching grants to purchase:
Great Barrington: backpacks, clamps, hose packs, nozzles and adapters
Dalton: tools, McLeod rakes designed for fighting forest fires, pulaski axes, hoes and pumps
Granville: helmets, shrouds, goggles, jumpsuits and hoses
New Marlborough: forestry hoses, packs and nozzles
Cheshire: overpants, coats and helmets
Middlefield: booster reel, pants and helmets
New Ashford: turbo draft fire educator, shirts and pants
Worthington: chainsaw packs, fuel bottles, gear packs, headlamps, chaps, head protection and gloves
Windsor: hoses, GPS units, nozzles, shirts, pants and gloves
The program is designed to purchase safety, technological and rural fire defense equipment.
"We have a fantastic volunteer fire department that puts in so much time, effort and risk to protect all of us. One of the things we are happy to have and to protect in New Marlborough is our state forestland," said New Marlborough Selectwoman Michele Shalaby.
And the new forestry equipment can help the volunteer organizations protect those lands. In Southern Berkshire County, only the town of Lenox has full-time fire protection, said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, but even that coverage relies on volunteers.
"When a fire broke out at the Curtis Hotel, which is our senior housing program and is directly across the street from the fire house, the volunteers not only saved the building from falling into the cellar hole but also saved countless lives on a very cold night," Pignatelli said. "My hat goes off to all of the volunteers that make these small towns work because without them, we'd be in a whole heap of trouble."
The matching grants are capped at $2,000 but for small towns, that can still make a significant impact.
"While these grants are small in size, their impact will be large because we know how to stretch a dollar," said state Sen. Benjamin Downing. "It's the least we can do to provide this support."
Downing represents 52 communities, 13 of which have a population of 800 or fewer. With those numbers, towns rely on the "generosity and talents" of others, such as volunteer fire departments, he said.
The grants, through the Volunteer Fire Assistance Program, have been dispersed since 1978 to towns with less than 10,000 people. At least 80 percent of those towns' fire departments have to be made up of call or volunteer firefighters.
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