By Linda Looney-Bond
Fire departments in two Clayton County cities have been awarded a total of nearly $100,00 in grants by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the U.S. Fire Administration.
U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) announced this week that the Morrow Fire Department will receive $56,620, and the Riverdale Fire Department will receive $39,990.
The funds are awarded through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, according to a written statement by Michael Andel, chief of staff for Congressman Scott.
"The primary goal of the Assistance to Firefighters Grants is to meet the firefighting and emergency response needs of fire departments and emergency medical service organizations," Andel said, in the statement.
"Since 2001, AFG has helped firefighters and other first responders obtain critically needed equipment, protective gear, emergency vehicles, training, and other resources needed to protect the public and emergency personnel from fire and related hazards," Andel said.
"I'm ecstatic," said Riverdale Fire Chief DeWayne Earnest, about the grant. "We're going to be purchasing new, up-to-date, self-contained, breathing apparatuses -- SCBA," he said. "It's what we wear when we're fighting fires to keep us safe."
He said the grant was approved for the purchase of eight apparatuses, eight additional face pieces, and eight spare air bottles, or cylinders. "That's [air bottles] what we breathe from," said Earnest. "We hook up our face-piece to a line that comes from this bottle."
Earnest said the grant was essential to receiving the new equipment. "It's very important. Now, we'll have eight packs that are currently compliant with the new 2008 standards of the National Fire Protection Agency," he said. "Our other ones are still good packs, and we still use the packs, but these are more modern and up-to-date, to better protect our personnel."
Earnest said the total cost of the new equipment is approximately $42,000. He said a matching grant will cover the difference in the cost. "We have a 5-percent matching grant on our line-item budget, which is going to cost the citizens [of Riverdale] a total of $2,100," he said.
"I am pleased that [the] Morrow and Riverdale fire departments were able to compete and win these important grants," said Congressman Scott, in a written statement.
"Given the tight budgets in towns across America, it is important that our firefighters remain equipped to respond to emergencies," he said.
According to Earnest, the primary requirement to compete for the grants was to "be an organized fire department, and apply." However, he added, "It's a long application process. It takes days to fill out this application."
Morrow Fire Chief Mark Herendeen said the $56,620 grant his department will receive will be used to buy an additional thermal imaging camera, and to purchase a state-of-the-art personal accountability system.
"We're very, very happy," said Herendeen. "We're excited because it's pretty much new technology [the personal accountability system]. I don't know anybody in the metro-Atlanta area that's actually using this type of accountability system. This goes above and beyond what's out there now," said Herendeen. "This is an actual tracking device for each individual. It's all computer-based."
He said the purpose of the accountability system is to enhance firefighter safety, by allowing personnel to better manage the scene of a fire. "It allows you to make sure you know where everybody is, and if somebody is in trouble, you can get to them quicker," he said. "It takes a lot of the human-error factor out."
The grant funds, he said ,will be received in the form of a reimbursement. "They reimburse you after you have spent the money, or submitted a request for payment, so I have a twelve-month period to purchase everything," he said.
"We're just very, very fortunate," he added. "We feel grateful that we were awarded the money, and we'll make sure it goes to good use."