Breathing easier

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 3, 2003

Grant will purchase new equipment

By Megan Lavey / Selma Times – Journal

Selma firefighter Walter Jones immediately noticed the difference in the 1997-model Scott Air-Pak self-contained breathing apparatus the moment he put it on.

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With the SCBA packs that the Selma Fire Department currently owns, much of the weight of the air tank is placed on the shoulders. With the newer packs, the weight settles on the hips.

That way, firefighters like Jones will be able to wear them longer without tiring.

And thanks to a $195,210 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the United States Fire Administration, air packs such as the one Jones demonstrated will become the standard in Selma, rather than the exception.

News that the grant had been approved came just in time for Christmas. Fire Chief Henry Allen said the next step now is to get the Selma City Council to approve the matching funds.

In order for the grant to go through, Allen explained, the city must match about 10 percent of the funds that will be donated. This comes to about $21,690, he said.

More than 19,000 fire departments apply for grants through FEMA annually. The Selma Fire Department was among those applying for grants the past couple of years &045;&045; and got turned down.

Then, a little luck fell through the cracks.

There was also a little help from Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Sen. Richard Shelby, R.-Ala.

The money from this grant must be earmarked right down to a T, and Allen knows exactly where the money is going. $46,500 is going toward physical checkups, immunizations, healthcare, a nutritionist and other needs. Other money will be used for textbooks, overtime and expenses.

But the biggest asset is $64,000 that will be used to purchase new SCBA devices for the department. They need 34 in all.

New regulations set by the National Fire Protection Association will render the 1986-model that the firefighters currently wear obsolete in February.

Some of these changes include having a buddy system, where if the air runs low in one SCBA, a firefighter can hook up to a buddy and share his oxygen. This is known as rapid intervention.

The new masks also have voice communications, which will enable the men to talk to each other.

Not only will the SCBAs be replaced, but also a 1986 Mako Air Machine that fills up the tanks that the firefighters wear. Parts for the machine are not made for it anymore, Allen explained, and they have to constantly look around to find parts.

The problem with not finding parts is that something could possibly happen to the air machine and it could fill the tanks with contaminated air. That would cause a firefighter’s death, Allen said.