Firefighters breathe easier with grant
The New Port Richey fire department receives federal funds to purchase improved breathing safety equipment.
Published September 20, 2003

NEW PORT RICHEY - City fire department officials got a nice surprise Friday when they found they are set to receive $169,020 in federal money for new breathing equipment.

"We were all shocked here this morning that we got it," said John Thela, the assistant fire chief. "It was quite a large amount of money, so we didn't think our chances were all that good."

The grant, which the department applied for almost a year ago, comes from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The new tanks and masks will come with safety features that will bring the city's equipment up to recent standards set by the National Fire Protection Association.

"The new standards say they have to have back up alarm systems," Thela said. "If you start running out of air the alarm activates to tell you."

The new tanks also will come with alarms that sound and flash if a firefighter passes out or gets stuck.

"After about 20 or 30 seconds of not moving the alarm activates automatically," Thela said. Then his buddies know to come looking for him.

The department also may buy oxygen masks that come with microphones that amplify the wearer's voice, Thela said, and make it easier for firefighters to communicate.

"We're really happy over it," he said. "Just being chosen out of thousands upon thousands of fire departments is great."

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant program has given out $750-million during fiscal year 2003 to more than 3,800 local fire departments across the nation.

New Port Richey got the third largest grant in the state. Miami got $750,000 and Citrus County got $357,140.

Thela said department officials apply for lots of grants hoping that some will come through. "This is the most that we've ever gotten," he said. "Normally it's a fairly small amount."

Without the extra money officials still would have had to upgrade the breathing equipment, he said. But it would have taken years.

The tanks and masks are not just for fighting fires. "If somebody falls into a well or if a construction worker gets hurt somewhere below the ground," he said, "our firefighters always wear these."

It is hard to tell when oxygen levels might be low or when hazardous gases might be hanging in the air, he said.

"It's not that the breathing apparatus that we're using has anything bad with it," he said. "It's just that they keep adding more and more little safety features to it."