The department got a dozen sets of turnout gear from a grant two years ago; many of the new and replaced items within the fire house came from grant funding.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — More than 200 area firefighters will be receiving turnout gear thanks to a nearly $600,000 federal grant made through the North Adams Fire Department.
"That's over 200 sets of personal protective equipment for firefighters and it's about safety," Fire Chief Stephen Meranti said. "You can't go into a burning building without it."
The regional Assistance to Firefighters Grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security totals $588,655 and will support the procurement of turnout gear for an estimated 228 firefighters in 11 departments. North Adams will get 13 sets of gear to add to the dozen received through a smaller AFG application two years ago.
The ensemble includes coat, pants, boots and helmet and its life expectancy is about a decade.
"That's the rule of thumb that we've been using over the years," Meranti said. "They're expensive. It's 2800 bucks a set."
He showed one coat that had been taken out of service because of concerns over its age and heat resistance. The black coat's coloring had bled away in once section, creating a mottled, reddish appearance. High heat or exposure to some compounds can cause such discoloration, and it can mean a degradation in the gear's protective ability.
The new coats are lighter and have a more modern materials than the older versions.
"Before they covered you so the water would shed off you and the heat wouldn't get you too bad," the chief said. "Now, it's so that you can move in it, and it's a lot more physical and ergonomically designed. You can move your arms, there's padding where you need padding."
The city has been pursuing the regional grant on behalf of itself and surrounding communities for about two years, said Amalio "AJ" Jusino, president of Emergency Response Consulting, who has written this and other grants for the department.
The grant was recently announced by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's office. Meranti said the other departments had to confirm their commitment to participating in the matching grant process before it was assured.
"In the city of North Adams, we are so fortunate to have well-trained, professional first-responders protecting and serving our residents, homes, and businesses," said Mayor Thomas Bernard. "Thanks to these recent grant awards, we have the opportunity to ensure that our firefighters and emergency response personnel have equipment and gear that will keep them safe while they are keeping us safe.
"I'm grateful to our congressional delegation in Washington for their support in securing these funds for our first responders."
North Adams as the largest community in the Northern Berkshires is often the host for regional grants, including a recent $25,000 Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency grant for sheltering and evacuation that it teamed up for with Adams and Williamstown. The city also got an $11,905 for five automatic external cardiac defibrillators through an Assistance for Firefighters Grant to replace devices more than a decade old now.
The MEMA Emergency Management Performance Grant will fund two trailers of supplemental supplies to what the city has now including equipment designed for geriatric patients iand traffic cones and barricades to direct traffic along evacuation routes.
"There was a $25,000 option if you were doing a regional, and there was a $10,000 option if you were doing a single, so we communicated with primarily Adams and Williamstown but all the communities under the [Regional Emergency Planning Committee] agreed," said Jusino, also assistant chief of Northern Berkshire EMS and a former firefighter. At least two communities had to sign on and their use of Reverse 911 or a Code Red system could be used as the matching part of the grant. "So we submitted under three categories of the grant — sheltering, evacuation, and quality distribution, which is a new concept that we see Homeland Security pushing on."
"Quality distribution" means setting up centers where residents can access emergency items like tarps, water, and other supplies.
The trailers will be maintained by North Adams but like other pieces of equipment — the shelter trailer and generators, for instance — will be available to members of the Northern Berkshire REPC in an emergency.
All three grants will be fulfilled through the public procurement process.
AFG offers regional, operations and vehicle grants, all of which the city has been able to earn over the 15 years or so, along with MEMA grants.
"Three key things besides vehicles is hose, gear, and SCBAs [self-contained breathing apparatus]," Jusino said. "So we've received those three things on a regional level in the last four years. ...
"If you look at the three grants of just hose, SCBAs and PPE, that's $1.3 million in taxpayer savings that was injected into this community and benefited the city."
Meranti ticked off a list of vehicles and equipment purchased through grants: Engine 1, hoses, nozzles, SCBA replacements, ventilation vehicle exhaust system, the cascade system to fill air packs, the compressor system, the gear washer and extractor, utility vehicle, and electric and battery operated hydraulic vehicle extraction tools.
"Every major purchase the Fire Department has made in the past 15 years has gone from some form of grant whether it be an AFG grant or a MEMA grant," he said, with the exception of the city's recent purchase of a pickup and Car 1. The department's currently applying for a grant for rescue rope and other extraction equipment because it is doing more hiker rescues.
"Pick something ... any large piece of equipment in the past 15 years, there was some form of a grant attached to them," Meranti said. "The impact on the community is where you're trying to make it cost as little as possible and provide the best safety that we possibly can to the firefighters ... A lot of it's Department Homeland Security funding, without that funding, we would be in tough shape."
Meranti credited Jusino's grant-writing skills in garnering a major portion of the funding that has saved the city millions.
"We're really pleased with AJ's company," Meranti said. "He does a great job writing the grants."
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