Harwich Fire Department Gets Major Firefighter Assistance Grant

By: William F. Galvin

Fire Chief David LeBlanc.

HARWICH — The fire department has received notice through FEMA that it will be awarded an Assistance to Firefighters Program grant for $409,296 to replace self-contained breathing apparatus, compressors used to refill the apparatus and rapid intervention packs.

Without the grant, the town would have to fund the equipment through the capital budget, said Fire Chief David LeBlanc. The department has to replace 42 of the self-contained breathing apparatus units and spare cylinders within three years, before they became obsolete, he said.

“While every grant award is beneficial to the department and the town, this award is particularly timely considering the current budget concerns,” LeBlanc said. “Removing almost $600,000 from the next two years of the capital plan provides some much needed relief to the town of Harwich.”

The plan was to fund the purchase of the new equipment through the capital plan over a two-year period. The initial grant application sought $575,000, and there is an article in the annual town meeting for an additional $20,000 for the town’s contribution.

The units the department is seeking cost between $10,000 and $10,100 each. But FEMA will pay only $7,000 per unit. There were some features the department will be able to do without, LeBlanc said, such as a voice submitter contained in the masks and a second set of straps for the equipment.

“We’ll be able to get all 42 and we’ll make it work,” LeBlanc said.

The cylinders now in use are in the final years of their life cycle and no longer meet the National Fire Protection standard, he said. The grant will provide firefighters with better-designed self-contained breathing to reduce injuries and increase overall safety. LeBlanc said the cylinders will be upgraded from a half hour of service time to 45 minutes.

“The purpose of the Assistance to Firefighters Program is to protect the health and safety of the public and firefighting personnel against fire and fire-related hazards,” LeBlanc said in a press release.

The self-contained breathing apparatus in use now is 15 years old. Every five years the apparatus is tested, but regulations allow them to be tested only three times, after which the air packs no longer meet current standards. LeBlanc said once the carbon fiber equipment reaches a certain age it is no longer considered “trustworthy.”

This is the third year in a row the department has been a recipient of a FEMA firefighting grant.

As part of the program, FEMA provides training and guidance through the regional grant offices. Each year the department works closely with David L. Parr, the regional fire program specialist for the grant program, to ensure the requirements of the program are met, the press release said.

“I was surprised we got this one for more than $400,000,” LeBlanc said. “It’s a large number for little Harwich.”

Given the town’s success over the past three years, LeBlanc said he definitely plans to file another grant application next years.