SWAMPSCOTT — The Swampscott Fire Department has been awarded a $121,319 federal grant, which will be used to replace their outdated breathing equipment allowing firefighters to more safely enter burning buildings.
With the Assistance to Firefighters Grants through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Swampscott Fire Department will be able to replace its entire stock, or 16 pieces, of 13-year-old self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).
In May, Town Meeting approved $100,000 in funding for the purchase of the new equipment, but after being awarded the grant, the town’s share of the bill drops to $6,065, according to Fire Chief Kevin Breen.
“Very few things in equipment that a firefighter uses are as important as personal protective equipment and an important component of that is self-contained breathing apparatus,” Breen said. “(We) rely on that to keep them safe. This is a vital piece of equipment that firefighters use every day when going into burning buildings.”
Breen said this is the department’s fourth attempt at replacing its breathing apparatus through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant, as the equipment is very expensive. The last time it was replaced was through the same grant in 2005.
Breen said the grant will pay for 34 face pieces—one for each member of the fire department—along with 16 air pack units with two cylinders each. The 32 cylinders have a 15-year lifespan.
Breen said the air packs could have gone a little further, but at an ever-increasing cost for maintenance. The cylinders, which hold compressed air, would have been obsolete, or not useable after next year, as they were set to expire in Nov. 2019 and would then be removed from service.
The National Firefighter Protection Association increases the standard for breathing apparatus every five to six years, making the current equipment two cycles out of date. It’s still functional, safe and operable, Breen said, but it’s becoming obsolete.
Also included with the equipment is a transponder attached to each breathing unit, a radio-tracking technology that can locate a firefighter in a building if he or she gets into trouble.
“I’m ecstatic,” Breen said. “Every year, we try to write the best grant that we can and this is a huge savings to the town because Town Meeting authorized $100,000 to put toward replacing my air packs and now that money will be available for other things in town. So, this is a great boon for the department.”
Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald said the new SCBAs will provide added features that will help protect the town’s firefighters from harm caused by smoke and fumes.
“The importance of the SCBAs is not widely understood, but in today’s modern era where firefighters get to scenes more rapidly and they’re exposed to fumes that combust and contain modern chemicals and elements that really pose carcinogenic and serious public health threats, this type of grant is so critical to Swampscott,” Fitzgerald said.
“The public health threat for firefighters can’t be (understated) and their sacrifice in the immediacy of responding to events and long-term over the course of their careers is something we have to be vigilant about. We have to make sure we take steps to protect and mitigate the harmful effects of fumes and smoke, but also the risks for that profession.”
The town administrator recognized that this is a fitting legacy that Breen, who is rounding out his career, would bestow upon the department and town.
“Our firefighters play an integral role in our communities,” said U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass) in a statement. “This grant will help ensure the safety of our first responders. I am grateful to FEMA for recognizing the need to invest in local fire departments and keeping our first responders safe.”