Local fire departments find federal support

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WINDHAM COUNTY — Local fire departments last week received grants aimed at helping with equipment purchases that the Vermont congressional delegation says are "critically needed" for protecting residents and the people who put out the fires.

"Our firefighters play an invaluable role in communities throughout Vermont," Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch stated in a joint announcement Oct. 6. "We are pleased to be able to help provide the resources they need. These federal grants will play a crucial role in purchasing essential equipment to help our first responders protect Vermonters."

Vermont departments received a combined $1,635,648 via 15 federal grants. The awards come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Assistance to Firefighters Grant program.

Champion Fire Company of South Londonderry received $86,094 for 14 new self-contained breathing devices and 28 air bottles.

"This will allow us approximately 15 minutes longer working time in hazardous environments without having to change tanks," Fire Chief Jeff Duda wrote on Facebook. "In addition we now increase the number of packs from 12 to 14."

Duda told the Reformer the equipment the new units are replacing are 15 years old now. On Tuesday, he said the department was still looking at models.

"We're hoping to make a decision hopefully this week," he said. "Had it not been for this grant, our community would not have been able to replace our equipment at this time. We would have had to piecemeal it over time."

NewBrook Fire & Rescue received $93,334 for 14 new self-contained breathing apparatuses.

"We're replacing all our air packs," NewBrook Fire Capt. Jay Wilson told the Reformer.

He said the department's air packs are now between 15 to 20 years old. He expects the new equipment to arrive before the end of the year.

"It's not an expense you can do on our coin drop and barbecue," Wilson said, referring to fundraising efforts by the department. "So this was a nice little surprise this year."

The West Dummerston Volunteer Fire Department received two grants, totaling $116,096. Three brand new thermal imaging cameras will be replacing two models that are 16 years old now. The new cameras will allow firefighters to "check for fire extension in walls" and find victims in smoke-filled rooms, according to a press release from the department.

The funds are also going to purchase a brand new brush truck, which will replace a 1986 Chevrolet 3500 that first arrived to the department as a used contractors truck, according to the press release.

"Numerous safety and maintenance issues have plagued the current truck in recent years and there was no money to replace it," the press release stated.

The grant awards are almost 130 percent more than the department's annual operating budget, according to Assistant Chief Richard Cogliano.

"This is something we could never have funded on our own without significant increases to our taxpayers," he said in the press release.

The department will be required to match 5 percent of the cost, meaning about $6,000.

Parts of the truck have been ordered, Cogliano told the Reformer.

"We just need to get the chassis in," he said. "Then we need to put the rest of it together and have it in service for the winter season."

The cameras have not been purchased yet. Different models are being evaluated now.

"We're in the process of figuring out which one of those is best for us," said Cogliano, who expects to have the cameras after the new year.

Fire departments in Vermont had a good year as far as funding goes, he said.

"It's rare to get two grants within a year," he said. "It's possible. It's the first time it's happened to us. So we're excited about it."

Cogliano said members of the Vermont congressional delegation have been huge supporters of the fire service.

"I just hope to see this funding continue in the future," he added.

The Wilmington Fire Department received $19,643 for three new thermal imaging cameras, which have already made their way to the station.

"The town only has to match 5 percent of the total cost," Fire Capt. Bill Spirka said. "Pretty good when each camera and charger retail for about $8,000."

Late last month, the department had a class on the cameras that would be replacing older cameras. Firefighters crawled on the floor searching for a "victim" while an instructor gave them tips on improving their performance.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or @CMaysBR.

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