Home Fire News Firefighter Grants Make Million Dollar Difference

Firefighter Grants Make Million Dollar Difference

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From radios and treadmills firefighters use daily to equipment designed for a day of mass destruction, grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have pumped more than $3.6 million into Northeast Florida fire departments in the past four years.

Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department raked in the most money through a variety of grants, including more than $1 million of a $6 million Urban Security Area Initiative grant to the region. Federal records also show that the Clay, St. Johns and Nassau fire rescue departments each received more than half a million dollars in funding through two particular grants since 2002.

Funding through those two grants to St. Johns and Clay counties is designed to enhance firefighter health and safety and fund fire prevention education. Because of grant money, each firefighter can count among their gear respiratory protection equipment advanced enough to allow one person to siphon air from another’s air bottle if trapped in a fire.

In Clay County Battalion Chief Richard Knoff said the money meant the department could do a mass equipment replacement this year, replacing 174 self-contained breathing apparatus units at once. The same grant program also paid for 183 new breathing apparatus units that St. Johns Fire Rescue recently put in service, department spokesman Jeremy Robshaw said.

A trailer, purchased through $35,000 in funding, is expected to arrive in May. Set up like a home, the trailer has a bedroom door that heats up and is filled with smoke to teach children about evacuating a blaze, Robshaw said.

In Nassau County, Homeland Security grant money will be used to convert a 800 MHz radio system possibly this year, Deputy Fire Chief Sam Young said. The $660,000 in federal funding will cover the fire department’s costs as it switches from an outdated Very High Frequency system that doesn’t allow it to communicate with Florida Highway Patrol troopers, sheriff’s officers and Jacksonville firefighters. The new system will mean first responders won’t have to carry multiple radios to talk to each other or count on cell phones or emergency dispatchers to relay messages.

In Jacksonville, federal Assistance to Firefighters grants and Fire Prevention and Safety grants paid for mandatory firefighter physicals that otherwise would have been funded by the city budget. The grants also funded new exercise equipment at the city’s fire stations, spokeswoman Bennie Seth said.

Although the federal government distributes some of the grant assistance directly, Jacksonville in particular also has won a significant share of federal funds from the state that are divided among fire departments each year. About $2 million of that money has gone toward training more firefighters in urban search and rescue techniques and paying for a trailer packed with state-of-the-art equipment used in those types of rescues, said Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department homeland security coordinator Greg Miller. Firefighters have taken that equipment on mutual aid missions to hurricane-swept regions, including Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.

Those funds allowed for training opportunities and paid for equipment such as chemical agent detectors that before Sept. 11, 2001, were associated more with military technology, Miller said.bridget.murphy@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4161FEDERAL MONEY HELPS AT HOMEFederal grants to Northeast Florida fire departments since 2002 for two programs aimed at enhancing fire prevention and firefighter health and safety:Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department $760,000St. Johns County Fire Rescue $1.6 millionClay County Fire Rescue $625,000 Nassau County Fire Rescue $660,000Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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