The Whiteford Volunteer Fire Department in northern Harford County has received $231,088 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.
The money will allow the fire company, which includes 150 volunteers - about 90 of whom are active in fire and emergency services - to purchase 100 sets of protective or "turnout" gear and face masks.
"We are ecstatic," said Whiteford assistant chief John Williamson. "This means we can replace all our turnout gear and upgrade equipment. It brings us into full compliance with national standards."
The department will also purchase fit-testing equipment that will assure the masks conform to each member's individual specifications. An end to sharing ill-fitting masks will mean improved hygiene and less contamination, officials said.
This is the second award for the Whiteford department, one of 11 in the county. In 2004, the company received about $102,000 to buy breathing equipment.
The company averages about 1,200 fire and emergency calls a year, many of them to locations a few miles away in southern Pennsylvania. Firefighters have had to cope with aging gear, some of it nearly 15 years old, Williamson said.
"For the first time since we were chartered, all of our members will have upgraded equipment," Williamson said. "Every volunteer will have a mask. This is huge. People just don't realize the financial constraints volunteer companies work under."
The company is seeking bids from several equipment vendors. Williamson expects to have all the new gear delivered as soon as Labor Day. Any serviceable used gear will be used for training or donated to an impoverished company in central Virginia, he said.
Since 2001, Harford County Fire Department & Emergency Medical Services companies have been awarded nearly $2 million in grant program funding. The grants pay for firefighting equipment, personal protection equipment, training, firefighting vehicles, firefighter and first-responder safety projects, and staffing recruitment and retention.
In that same time period, Maryland fire departments and fire service organizations have received nearly $62 million from the federal agency.