State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing speaks in Great Barrington on Wednesday about grants given to four county fire departments.
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing speaks in Great Barrington on Wednesday about grants given to four county fire departments. (Holly Pelczynski / Berkshire Eagle Staff )

GREAT BARRINGTON -- Christmas came early for four Berkshire County fire departments, who were selected for a share of $68,000 in grant funding.

The departments were granted a wish list of essential firefighting gear to buy new fire hoses, and firefighting accessories that include "hose packs" and other equipment through the state-run Volunteer Fire Assistance program. The program funds small, volunteer departments located near state-owned land.

"We protect a lot of state land, so ... it certainly helps to have some assistance," said Great Barrington Fire Chief Charles Burger, who attended a ceremony at his station on Wednesday with state officials.

Run with volunteers and goodwill, cash-strapped fire departments can be left between a rock and hard place when replacing or buying new equipment.

The Great Barrington Fire Department received $750 in matching grant funding to purchase "hose packs," "hose clamps" and other items that will assist in a brush fire, Burger said.

The Berkshire County towns of Cheshire, New Marlborough, New Ashford and Windsor also received a boost from matching grant funds. The Western Massachusetts towns of Middlefield, Worthington and Granville also will share in the $68,000 in grant funding.

Funding for the VFA Program is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service and administered by the department on a 50 percent reimbursement basis.

On Wednesday, departments awarded with funding met with the Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Jack Murray and State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing and State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli.

Downing, who has the most communities of anyone in the state Senate with 52, said the money will go a long way for these cash-strapped departments. Pignatelli, who tops the statehouse with 20 communities in his district, said only Lenox Fire Department has staffing 24/7. There is only one firefighter on duty, with the rest on call.

"A little bit of love goes a long way in Western Massachusetts," Downing said. "While they are small in size, we know their impact will be large because we know how to stretch a dollar out here."

For the New Marlborough Fire Department, the grant funding allowed them to buy a forestry hose.

Recalling a large fire in the spring on South Sandisfield Road near the New Marlborough and Sandisfield border, New Marlborough Fire Chief Chuck Loring recalled the hose wasn't long enough to corral the fire. They were left waiting for other departments to respond to keep the fire contained.

"It was one of those times in the spring where it was very dry," Loring said. "If we didn't stop it quick there we would be fighting a brush fire pretty quickly."

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