More than $400,000 in federal money will provide five of Carroll County's volunteer fire companies with the latest technology for firefighters, updated equipment for engines and safety features that will enhance and improve firehouses.
"This is a real boon for Carroll County, for fire operations, and for safety and protective equipment," said Scott Campbell, deputy administrator in Carroll's Office of Public Safety.
The Gamber fire company received $184,100, the largest grant awarded in the county by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The money will help the company outfit its more than 70 firefighters with new equipment, including breathing apparatus sets and personalized face pieces. The company will also buy a new compressor and install high-tech rescue packs on its three fire engines.
"We are really excited about getting this equipment, and we are already getting bids out to suppliers," said Clay Myers, the Gamber company's public information officer. "We were at the point of debating how we could afford to replace equipment that was about to expire when we heard about the grant."
FEMA made about $750 million available to fire companies nationwide and handled requests for about three times that amount, Campbell said. The agency awarded the grants after a competitive application process.
"This is not a little piece of paper you hand in saying 'I want,'" said Chief Chad Green of the Union Bridge fire company. "We were at the point of hiring somebody to write the application for us, until one of our members stepped forward."
Leon M. Fleming, the Carroll County Volunteer Fireman's Association's liaison to county government, said this is the first year that so many local companies have been so fortunate.
"I think it's better grant writing and more money available," he said. "We are really benefiting this year."
Grant recipients must provide a 10 percent match to the federal money.
"The government does not give this money away on a whim," Campbell said. "Each application goes through a scoring process and is judged by peers. Imagine if these companies had to fund-raise for this equipment. Instead, they are getting it for 10 cents on the dollar."
Forrest Shaw, assistant fire chief in Pleasant Valley, expected to tell his firefighters last night that the company had won a FEMA grant for the second consecutive year. Thanks to last year's $22,000 grant, the firehouse has a small fitness center. The company will use this year's $23,000 to buy mapping and planning software.
"This software will allow us have the layout of a building at our fingertips," Shaw said. "It will also show us the best access, any possible hazards and where the nearest water is."
Each of Pleasant Valley's engines will be outfitted with a laptop computer that will have "information to guide us to a call and define any hazards there," Shaw said. "Laptops in all the fire engines - that's the way to go."
Shaw said he had seen the technology at a conference and knew immediately that he would request it in his FEMA grant application.
"The beauty of this government program is that it provides money for projects we could not normally afford," Shaw said. "We can take advantage of the best technology with FEMA money."
Harney, the smallest of Carroll's 14 volunteer companies, won $70,200, the second-largest of the five grants. It will buy a thermal imager and improve its system for charging tanks and storing breathing air.
"Our goal is to upgrade safety features so that we are comparable with neighboring companies," Harney Chief Donald Yingling Sr. said. "This is the kind of stuff you only hope you can get. This equipment helps offset manpower shortages."
The thermal imager can pinpoint the location of a fire and allow firefighters to detect any heat source - including a body - in a smoke-filled room, he said.
FEMA has made more money available for fire and rescue services since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Yingling said.
"People realize now that firemen are at risk and that they have to take care of what is a great resource right in their back yards," he said. "The average small fire requires as much as $2 million worth of equipment to fight."
The Union Bridge company will use its $61,131 to buy a second thermal imager, new hose equipment and an exhaust system for the firehouse.
"We are not the busiest station, but when we start up our engines, it can be hard to breathe here," Green said.
A $66,375 grant will pay for 40 new sets of gear at the Winfield fire company. Each set costs about $1,500 and includes boots, pants, a coat, gloves, a hood and a helmet. The remaining money will help pay for fitness equipment, said Scott Legore, the company's public information officer.