BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Sometimes the best way to protect the people of your community, is to make sure you’re safe first.
The Fort Madison Fire Department can now take another step in protecting firefighters inside burning and smoke-filled buildings with new airpacks purchased with Federal Emergency Management Agency grant money.
Fire Chief Joey Herren said the new packs will go onto the trucks on Friday. He said the department has been training on the new airpacks for about 3 weeks in addition to being able to use a model to compare to the former Scotts air packs the city has been using.
“Our airpacks are supposed to be changed out every 15 years, especially the bottles. Then they changed the standards on the rest of the packs. Those carbon fiber bottles they only have a life span of 15 years,” Herren said.
“We were in a dilemma on the budget crunch that was going to cost me to replace all the bottles at about just under $900 apiece. I had 32 bottles so that was going to be in the $32,000 range just to replace bottles and we’d still have (National Fire Protection Association) standard 2001 air packs because we’ve updated those three or four times. So we applied for the FEMA Firefighters grant program and they awarded it to us this year.”
Herren said he knew the tanks were coming to the end of their life cycle and started working on the grants three years ago.
“I’ve applied for it three times. I did it in 2013, 2014 and 2015. We were turned down the first two years and we went ahead and wrote it again through the grant company and they gave us the grant on the 3rd year,” he said.
Herren said the biggest change was going from Scotts, the previous airpack manufacturer, which everyone wore for the past 20 years and what Herren wore as a volunteer, and now they’re changing companies.
“So we’ve taken about 3 weeks of training. They have some more sensors and alarms on them. With the old standard we were alarmed at 25% air to get out of the building and now the alarm goes off at 33%. But these MSA’s do have a pass device, if you’re not moving…even if you’re just standing there and not moving it alarms pretty loud to let them know where you are.”
Herren said the department has a 2-in-2-out rule so firefighters always go into a structure with a partner.
He said with Scotts manufacturer, you could buy a tracking device that had a wand that let you know you were getting close.
“We had the process of playing with both of them at our training facility and all but two guys said they liked the MSAs over the Scotts. Nothing wrong with Scotts, but MSA does have a lighter face and the speaker is on the shoulder piece. It’s very clear and that’s one of the things we like about it.”
As far as cost to the city, Herren said these grant’s paid for 95% of the costs of both the new airpacks and 16 new radios that can wirelessly connect to a signal on the new airpacks.
“This cost us about $2,000 for the airpacks and even some of that is paid back. This came to $108,176. The cost to the city was about 5% so we paid about $6,000 for all this equipment. So I was looking at $32,000 on the budget hit on the replacement bottles compared to $6,000 for the entire airpacks so that’s how much of a saving we had to the city.”
“It’s a good deal..now these things and all the parts have a 15-year warranty and that’s the life of them.”
Herren said he also wrote the cost for 16 new handheld radios into the latest grant proposal.
“I also wrote a grant for radios. My total was $131,595. I’m gonna get 16 new radios with this, too. They were also at the 15-year mark. We got a grant in 2001 when Chief Clatt was here in 2001 and we were able to get new radios at that time. So basically we’re getting about $131,595 for about $8,000. Those radios are another $30,000 on top of these airpacks.”
“It’s been a good deal for us budget wise.”
See the Featured Video section of this website to watch a demonstration of the new airpacks.