GREAT BARRINGTON — U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, congratulated members of the Great Barrington Fire Department on Monday for winning what he termed a "handsome" $160,477 award from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Neal was in town to announce the grant, which will be used to purchase 28 new self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) units — commonly known as air packs, according to Fire Chief Charles Burger.
"The units we have now are 11 years old, and some are in poor condition," Burger said. In fact, he said, the manufacturer who used to make the Great Barrington units has gone out of business, making it impossible to get replacements.
Neal said FEMA grants of this nature are extremely hard to get.
"These applications are scrutinized very carefully," he said. "A $160,000 grant is a handsome award to a small community like Great Barrington. I'm assuming that like any small community, you have expenses."
Burger confirmed that his department "has a number of capital projects we're looking at. This grant will help tremendously."
He said the new air bottles that are the principal part of the air packs will be 45-minute bottles, as opposed to 30-minute bottles.
In addition, he said, the new air bottles will sound an alarm when they are two-thirds depleted. Formerly, he said, the new bottles would sound an alarm when they are three-quarters depleted.
"That's a help for us," he said. "Earlier warning is always a help."
The new air packs will also be easier to maintain and have face plates that will not fog up. Visibility, he said, is especially essential in fighting fires.
The new air packs also have better communication equipment, Burger said.
The packs are used an average of 20 to 25 times a year, the chief said.
He expects to get the new equipment in about three months. Firefighters also will need a few weeks to train with it, he said.
Contact Derek gentile at 413-496-6251.