The Anniston Fire Department is seeking to fund the cost of replacing aging equipment through a state grant. Fire Chief Chris Collins says that, although he’s new to grant writing, this was an opportunity that was too good to pass up.
At 15 years of age, many of the Department’s self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) used for emergency hazardous materials responses have become obsolete and must be replaced. Once funded by CSEPP (Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Plan) funds during the days of chemical weapons destruction, the units must now be replaced using taxpayer dollars. The grant would help lessen that burden.
Collins says he learned of the grant via an e-mail from the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency which was sent to public safety agencies throughout Calhoun County. The grant is awarded through the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency of Homeland Security. A unique category in the grant addressing Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) prevention, detection and response opened the door for the Anniston Fire Department to pursue replacing its SCBA, which are CBRN compliant devices.
Whereas CBRN emergencies differ from HAZMAT emergencies in scope and intent (CBRN can affect mass populations and are considered intentional and malicious) the SCBA used to respond to them are the same; and having them on hand and up-to-date prepares an emergency response department for either event.
The SCBA are used with Level A and Level B Hazmat Personal Protective Equipment. Level A features a fully encapsulated vapor protection suit (full body protection) with Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), inner chemical resistant gloves, chemical resistant safety boots and two way radio communications.
Level B provides the same respiratory protection but less skin or outer body protection. The chemical protective suit provides liquid splash protection but no protection against vapors. HAZMAT emergencies require personnel to spend considerably longer periods of time engaged in containment and clean-up operations as well as decontamination. SCBA units worn when fighting structural fires allow for 45 minutes of air whereas units for HAZMAT operations allow for extended periods of activity up to 60 minutes. The additional 15 minutes are critical when fire fighters go through decontamination procedures. New SCBA units are also lighter and technologically advanced compared to older units, and the masks are more ergonomically designed.
The AFD is seeking $49,132.00 in grant funds to replace six SCBA units, 15 air cylinders, a charging station and an adapter for re-filling cylinders—half of what the department originally had. Collins says one SCBA system cost over $7,000.
The department recently purchased $31,880.00 worth of cylinders out of the regular FY17 budget and is working to replace all of them. Whereas the original concern was an emergency related to chemical weapons disposal, Collins says that the need has changed. The Calhoun County Hazardous Materials Team, which was a partner agency in the past, disbanded at the end of 2015. “Anniston is now a agency charged with responding to any HAZMAT situation involving Mutual Aid partners in our County.”
The grant was submitted September 5 to the Calhoun County EMA. After review, it will be sent to the State level. Collins hopes Anniston’s odds are good considering that the AFD provides service to multiple jurisdictions. If the grant is not awarded to Anniston, Collins’ backup plan to replace the units is to set money aside from the Department’s 5-year capital outlay. “Ultimately,” says Collins, “We don’t have a choice. Those units must be replaced.”
Grant awardees could be notified as early as the end of 2017.