Two fire departments land big FEMA grants

MIDDLEURY — The Middlebury and Ferrisburgh fire departments have reaped a combined total of $295,985 in federal grant money to buy equipment that will keep their firefighters safer and thereby allow them to better serve local residents.
Vermont’s congressional delegation late last week announced that more than a dozen Vermont communities had won some of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) very competitive Assistance to Firefighters grants, which help fire departments purchase critically needed equipment to better protect the public and first responders.  This year’s Assistance to Firefighters grants will help buy such things as turnout gear, breathing apparatus and radios.
Middlebury and Ferrisburgh were the only Addison County fire departments to share in the total $1.6 million in program funds that had been earmarked for Vermont, according to the state’s congressional delegation, which advocated for area firefighters’ needs.
“Our firefighters play an invaluable role in communities throughout Vermont. We are pleased to be able to help provide the resources they need. These federal grants will play a crucial role in purchasing essential equipment to help our first responders protect Vermonters,” reads a statement attributed to U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and to U.S. Rep. Peter Welch.
The Middlebury Fire Department was a big winner, landing $219,223 through the Assistance to Firefighters program. Middlebury will kick in an additional $10,961 as its requisite, local 5-percent match.
Middlebury will use the money to buy 18 new mobile radios, 31 new hand-held radios and two repeaters — to be installed in the department’s utility trucks — that will ensure a strong communication signal from firefighters in remote areas to their local headquarters.
Middlebury Fire Chief Dave Shaw was very pleased with the news of the grant award. He and Assistant Chief Pat Shaw explained the department’s current communications equipment is verging on 20 years old, raising concerns about dependability in emergency situations and in an era when technology is changing with the blink of an eye.
“The current equipment is not supported by Motorola Co. anymore,” Shaw said. “The end of its expected life was two years ago.”
The new equipment, to be provided and installed through Radio North, is top-flight and will likely satisfy the department’s needs for the next 15-20 years, according to Pat Shaw. Shaw, Lt. Jeff Carpenter and firefighter LeRoy Graham served on a Middlebury FEMA Grant Committee that spent more than 180 hours meticulously researching the equipment and grant requirements. The committee got some additional help from other fire department members — such as Blake Harrison — and from Middlebury College officials to review its FEMA grant for accuracy and completeness.
The extra effort paid off, as FEMA ranked Middlebury’s application an almost 100-percent rating in terms of evidence of need. Middlebury firefighters expect the equipment to arrive very soon.
Pat Shaw said his personal goals were to see firefighters get the new equipment they need to keep them safe, and to be able to make the purchase in a manner that would not place added stress on Middlebury taxpayers. Mission accomplished, he believes.
“We were like little kids waiting for Christmas,” he said of the tense months leading up to FEMA’s recent announcement that Middlebury Fire Department had bagged its grant requested.
There are also plenty of happy firefighters in Ferrisburgh, which secured $76,762 through the Assistance to Firefighters program. The money will allow the Ferrisburgh Fire Department to buy 13 new Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) packs.
Those SCBA packs feed critical oxygen to firefighters in smoky environments.
Ferrisburgh’s current SCBA packs became outdated in 2013, according to fire Chief Bill Wager.
He noted Ferrisburgh firefighters are already training on the new packs, which are expected to last for at least the next 15 years.
“The whole department is very pleased,” Wager said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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