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It's gratifying to see our first responders getting some attention so they can keep on keeping us safe.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Forest Grove and Cornelius firefighters participate in a Washington County Sheriff's Office program on the effects of intoxicated driving in April.With all due deference to police officers, sheriff's deputies and other emergency responders, firefighters don't always feel the love.

Oh, firefighters are popular, to be sure. Who dislikes firefighters?

Although polls consistently show police are well-liked by a strong majority of Americans, law enforcement always carries with it an element of controversy — after all, they're the ones who are trained in the use of lethal force, and in many communities, policing disproportionately affects people of color. As with any controversy, that means there are heightened feelings on both sides of the divide: a small minority that openly distrusts law enforcement officers, and a larger cadre of vocal supporters who want to stand up for police and sheriffs.

You've doubtless seen "thin blue line" window stickers on cars. Maybe you even have one yourself.

But where are the stickers to celebrate the fraternity of firefighters? They may not face down armed suspects, and no, they're not putting bad guys behind bars, but firefighters put their lives on the line every day. The dangerous work they do saves lives.

Our point here isn't to pit police and firefighters against one another. There's no competition — we value them both. They both provide an essential service to the community, and we're grateful to have all of them together protecting us.

But with all the attention and encouragement that's heaped on law enforcement, we're happy to see our local firefighters feeling the love this fall as well.

Fire agencies in Banks, Cornelius, Forest Grove, Gaston and Hillsboro, along with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, jointly received one of the largest awards in the history of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency's grant program for fire prevention — nearly $3 million, as the News-Times reported last week. With that huge grant, all six fire agencies can retire their aging self-contained breathing apparatus and replace them with newer models, as well as purchase more than 200 new face masks.

The Banks Fire District earned some "extra credit," separately applying for — and receiving — a nearly $400,000 grant from FEMA to install a system to suck vehicle exhaust out of the vehicle bays at its fire station in Banks, add a training facility to its planned fire station in Buxton, and provide medical exams for volunteer firefighters, which the station relies on.

The rural fire agency was also awarded $25,000 more through a public vote, courtesy of the State Farm Neighborhood Assist program. Online voters chose the Banks Fire District to be one of 40 grant recipients, out of hundreds of applicants from across the United States. That money will go toward buying automated external defibrillators, installing them at public locations throughout the fire district, registering them on the PulsePoint app and training members of the public on how to use them.

You might notice that these grants all have something in common: They prioritize public safety and the health of the firefighters, professional and volunteer, who serve our community.

More modern breathing equipment will allow firefighters to continue battling blazes in hazardous conditions, so they're not inhaling smoke or dangerous chemicals. The exhaust system in Banks should directly lead to better health for firefighters, drastically reducing the cancer-causing particulates they inhale. The training facility in Buxton will help keep firefighters fit, benefiting both their health and the level to which they can serve the public in physically challenging situations. The AEDs and CPR training these firefighters will receive could directly save the lives of people experiencing cardiac arrest, and they empower ordinary people — those who don't suit up and rush into burning buildings as part and parcel of their job — to make a difference in the community.

Read our Sept. 26, 2019, story on the grant awards given to the Banks Fire District.

Grant awards like these are important. By benefiting our firefighters, they have benefits for the entire community. Healthy, fit, properly equipped first responders can do a better job keeping us — and themselves — safe.

So no, firefighters don't get the regular attention, and the good and bad that comes with it, that law enforcement officers do. But in this regard, they're getting the attention they need and deserve, and together, we're a stronger community for it.


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