Thanks to a new federal grant, Baltimore County firefighters will be able to purchase essential safety equipment. The grant was announced by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Baltimore County Fire Chief John Hohman July 3 at the Rosedale volunteer fire company.
The officials released news of the funding for county firefighters as well as an additional grant for the Maryland State Firemen's Association and Maryland Fire Chiefs Association, the latter of which will be used for recruitment and training purposes.
"Career and volunteer fire service personnel put their lives on the line for us. Thanks to Sen. Mikulski and our federal partners, this grant will help provide essential equipment to support our Baltimore County responders," Kamenetz wrote in an email.
The $2,343,600 grant for Baltimore County firefighters is being given through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program. It will be used to help fund the purchase of 372 sets of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), equipment that allows firefighters to breathe while in smoke-filled areas, for all volunteer and career firefighters in the county.
"We're real excited to get new breathing apparatus," said Captain Richard Schenning of the Baltimore County fire department. "That's kind of the core of our survival equipment and what we use on a daily basis, so when we saw Sen. Mikulski was instrumental about getting the grant, everyone was happy about that, because that really is one of the most important pieces of equipment we have with us for our own safety, and this new equipment that they're purchasing has all the latest technology in it."
John McDowell, president of the Baltimore County Volunteer Firemen's Association and president of the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department, said replacing the equipment is vital.
"[Getting new equipment is] extremely important because the breathing apparatus that we currently have has reached its end of life and there's a lot of new technology that has been added to the breathing apparatus to make it safer, so as new technology is developed it gets incorporated into the SCBA system."
The old equipment, which is out-dated and no longer complies with National Fire Protection Association standards, will be replaced with newer, more advanced technology, something that Schenning said will be extremely beneficial for firefighters.
"In the past, the breathing apparatus has been pretty … cumbersome and this newer equipment is better ergonomically designed, it has better technology in it, and it has better communication systems so we can communicate with each other … and it's also lighter so it allows [us] to work for longer periods of time," he said.
Elise Armacost, spokeswoman for Baltimore County police and fire departments, agreed that buying new equipment is of utmost importance for the safety of firefighters.
"It's essential fire-fighting equipment," she said. "Firefighters cannot go safely into buildings to fight fires without it."
Though the grant will not cover the full cost of replacing the equipment, McDowell said it will cover a large amount.
"We don't know what the final amount's going to be, but certainly the grant will cover a significant amount of the cost, with Baltimore County covering the rest," he said.
Armacost said the funds provided through the grant will lift a burden off of Baltimore County taxpayers.
"The grant doesn't pay for all the self-contained breathing apparatus we need — Baltimore County is still going to have to make a significant investment itself — but this certainly helps make this more affordable, and it certainly helps Baltimore County residents," she said. "If we didn't get the grant, Baltimore County would be footing the entire cost of the replacement of the equipment itself. It's essential equipment; this is equipment firefighters have to have in order to do their job. The federal grant … means that Baltimore County doesn't have to pay the entire cost of replacing the equipment."
The other grant totaling $2,500,000 and given to the Maryland State Firemen's Association in partnership with the Maryland Fire Chiefs Association, was awarded through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response Program. The funds will be used to launch a four-year recruitment program across all 368 volunteer companies in the state, with an emphasis on retention.
McDowell, who serves on the Maryland State Firemen's Association Recruitment and Retention Committee, said the funds will reach Baltimore County, though he is unsure how as of now.
"There are some local issues and local challenges that that grant will help address, but we don't know what all those specific challenges are in the local jurisdictions, so what [the committee] will do is solicit input from local representatives across the state on what those local challenges are and solutions to those challenges."
Officials said both grants will positively affect Baltimore County firefighters, both volunteer and career.
Armacost said she recognized the importance of the $2.5 million grant for state-wide recruitment efforts.
"The Maryland State Firemen's Association is the organization that represents all of the states volunteer firefighters — the local organization is called the Baltimore County Firefighter's Association — it's up to the Maryland State Firemen's Association as to how that money is going to be distributed, so I don't know how they intend to distribute it," she said. "But we know that there's a challenge today for volunteer fire companies everywhere to keep qualified members because people are busy today… it's asking a lot of people to ask to invest the time and the training to be volunteer firefighters, so we appreciate any assistance on the part of the federal government to support training and retention of volunteers."
Reach Staff Writer Elaina Clarke at 410-857-3316 or email@example.com.