Meranti said the grant will allow the department to buy 73 breathing apparatus and seven intervention packs.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — U.S. Rep. Richard Neal presented the North Adams Fire Department with a $452,900 Department of Homeland Security Assistance to Firefighters Grant and a $300,000 EPA Brownfields communitywide assessment grant.
The city was the last stop on Neal's Berkshire County tour, after Great Barrington and Williamstown, where he discussed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants of $300,000 and $200,000 for those communities.
The Assistance to Firefighters grant will be used to purchase 73 breathing apparatus and seven intervention packs.
"Congratulations to the staff and the mayor," the Springfield Democrat said. "These grants are a very important part of local safety and first responders."
Fire Director Stephen Meranti said the city would not be able to purchase this equipment, which benefits communities throughout North County, without the grant.
"I believe our firefighters are our biggest asset and this provides them safety equipment that allows them to do their job," he said. "It allows them to enter a burning building or a toxic environment and focus on rescue."
Meranti added that all of the department's larger purchases come through this grant.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the kind of equipment that the grant will be used to purchase was a huge help during the recent fire at Sullivan School. Several fires were set inside the vacant building, forcing firefighters to work in dark and smoky conditions to find and contain them.
"They would not have been able to approach the building without the equipment. The building was completely filled with smoke and the proof is in the pudding," he said. "These guys do a wonderful job and ... I hope in the future the city continues to have a full-time fully trained department."
Neal added that many of the old mills found in North Adams and throughout New England are often abandoned and more vulnerable to fires because of oil and other contaminants.
He said the $300,000 EPA grant hopefully will access some of this contamination and attract developers, and help alleviate a fire hazard.
"The rule was polluters were supposed to pay but the problem with these old buildings no one knows where the polluters are," he said. "The EPA assessment will allow you to find what is in the ground so you can get it out and interest developers."
Alcombright said the EPA grant is critical to development throughout the city.
Neal also mentioned the polarization in Washington and the change in civil discourse that has made it harder to work through policy.
Neal briefly discussed health care and said although he is amenable to a single-payer system, he rather see the Affordable Care Act through. He added that he would like to experiment with a single-payer system first, perhaps in a diverse state like California.
The ACA has worked and given millions more people insurance, he said. "I would say this, let's experiment first in a state like California ... if you are going to do something, get it right."
Neal also answered a question about complaints of infrequent visits to rural Berkshire County.
Rather, he said, he has attended 141 events in Berkshire County and that he plans to hold a town hall in the county this fall.
Alcombright reaffirmed Neal's statement and said the congressman's office has always been responsive to the city.
"I called the other day when the mayor announced he wasn't going to run [for re-election] and one of the nicest things he said to me was 'we got a lot of good things done we wanted to get done and John Barrett got a lot of things done,'" Neal said. "That speaks volumes about your character that you would credit someone else besides yourself in your moment ... that is a great lesson in public life for everybody."
Neal thanked the mayor for his service to the city and, as former Springfield mayor, welcomed Alcombright early into the "former mayor association."
"You are about to join an association that I have been a member of now for 29 years and it's a small alumni association called former mayors," he said. "I appreciate the gravity of what you did here."
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