Fire district grant helps staff catch their breath

Published on Thu, Jan 31, 2008 by Jack Kintner

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Fire district grant helps staff catch their breath

By Jack Kintner

Receipt of a half-million dollar federal grant to equip North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Service (NWFRS) firefighters with individual self-contained breathing devices was announced by chief Tom Fields last week.

“It’s going to really help,” Fields said, “because when we merged districts 3 and 13 to form our department we inherited equipment that didn’t match and in some cases that was outmoded.” Both state and federal fire regulations require that such devices be worn whenever a firefighter is in an atmosphere that presents an immediate danger to life and health (IDHL), and in some cases the equipment no longer met federal specifications.

“An IDHL atmosphere can be anything, from a burning building to toxic gases, carbon monoxide, a chemical spill. We’re required to be wearing them so we got 84 because that’s how many total positions we have on our equipment. Each engine has four, each aid car and water tender will have two and each command car will carry one,” Fields said.

The units resemble tanks used by scuba divers and contain 4,500 psi of compressed air in a tank made of composite materials. The tank is carried on a back pack and when fully charged provides for roughly a half hour of air.

Each unit has a personal alert safety system in which a shrill alarm sounds if the unit stops moving as it would if a firefighter collapsed. There are ports for buddy breathing with a firefighter who may have run out of air and a heads up display in which the remaining amount of air in the tank is projected onto a firefighter’s face plate.

ach unit weighs about 30 pounds. The rest of the gear a firefighter carries weighs about 40 pounds, Fields said. Each one costs about $5,400. The federal grant came from the Department of Homeland Security through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance program.

The approved cost of $514,600 will be funded at 90 percent, or $463,140, by the federal grant and the rest will be paid for by NWFRS.