Fire district grant lets fire fighters breathe easier
By Jack Kintner
North Whatcom Fire and Rescue, also known as Whatcom County Fire District 21, has received a Federal Emergency Management Administration grant for $514,600 to purchase state-of-the-art self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) units.
They replace older units that have been rendered obsolete by changing federal regulations. “These new units meet all National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines as well as all applicable federal and state requirements,” said district 21 chief Tom Fields. “We are required to use them in situations that present an immediate danger to life and health.”
That’s not always when a building is actively burning, he added, as sites can release dangerous substances for a long time afterward. The new units, assigned to each firefighter position on a truck or other emergency vehicle, cost just over $5,000 apiece. The grant paid for 84 of them, plus maintenance equipment, spare tanks at $1,100 apiece and a facemask that’s issued to each firefighter.
“That’s why we all shave,” Fields said, “because we need a good seal on that mask.”
The units have some interesting features. A heads-up display puts a series of lights that indicate air capacity remaining in the corner of the wearer’s eye. A transmitter sends signals to the command officer indicating air remaining and temperature, and sound an alarm when the unit stops moving, indicating a firefighter may be in trouble. It also can receive an alarm for the wearer to evacuate if necessary.
“The new units, aside from giving us standardized equipment throughout the district, hold 50 percent more air,” said firefighter Jason Adams, “giving us 45 minutes instead of just a half hour.”