By Margie Wuebker
Christmas has arrived early for three area fire departments in the form of grants from the Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement (FIRE) Act.
The announcement of nearly $200,000 in grants awarded to Southwest Mercer Fire Department in Fort Recovery, Mendon Union Fire Department and Celina Fire Department was made last week.
Southwest Fire Chief Kim Day was at a loss for words when informed the Fort Recovery department would be receiving $122,089. The money is earmarked for the purchase of new turnout gear and self-contained breathing apparatus.
"Our current gear is getting rather iffy in terms of protection," Day told The Daily Standard. "We have tried to establish a replacement policy, but there wasn't enough dollars to go around."
The department has applied four times in the past but always received a polite letter indicating it was not among those selected. This year department officials and community members worked on the proposal, with Day getting pointers from Chickasaw Fire Chief Mark Seitz. Seitz has received grants for his department in the past. "This was a collaborative effort and the department could not be happier," Day said. "This is a shot in the arm for our department."
Mendon Fire Chief Dennis Clay indicated his department will use its $47,500 grant to purchase self-contained breathing apparatus also known as air packs -- important equipment firefighters use when entering smoke-filled or burning buildings. The additional money will free up limited funds for other things.
"Small departments do not have a large budget," he said. "This will help tremendously."
The Celina department will use its $25,650 grant to purchase six air packs plus spare oxygen bottles, according to Lt. Doug Wolters. The addition of more safety equipment is welcomed by department members and volunteers.
The Office of Domestic Preparedness (ODP), part of the Department of Homeland Security, awards grants through a competitive need-based process. Approximately 20,000 fire departments nationwide applied for grants this year, and ODP expects to award nearly 7,000.
Since 2001, more than 878 separate grants have been awarded to Ohio fire departments, totaling more than $73 million.
Dollars can be used to assist in firefighting and fire prevention programs, to fund firefighter health and safety, to acquire new equipment and to enhance emergency medical services programs.