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The $3 million federal grant will be shared by Washington County's fire agencies.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Hillsboro Fire & Rescue is among the local fire agencies getting new equipment thanks to a federal grant.Washington County fire agencies are receiving nearly $3 million from the federal government to replace old equipment.

Fire officials in Forest Grove announced Monday night, Sept. 23, that the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, selected the six local fire agencies' joint application for the grant.

With the $3 million, the fire agencies — the Banks Fire District, the Cornelius Fire Department, Forest Grove Fire & Rescue, the Gaston Rural Fire District, Hillsboro Fire & Rescue, and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue — will be able to replace every piece of self-contained breathing apparatus they have, and also purchase 318 face masks.

The self-contained breathing apparatus, or SCBA, is the equipment that firefighters use to breathe safely in smoke-filled or otherwise hazardous environments.

According to Forest Grove fire officials, many of Washington County's SCBAs are set to reach the end of their expected service life within the next two years. In all, 427 pieces of the aging equipment will be replaced with the "next generation" of the breathing technology using money from the FEMA grant.

The six fire agencies will collectively put up $272,636 in matching funds for the grant.

FEMA provides money to local fire agencies through its "Assistance to Firefighters" grant program. Forest Grove Fire & Rescue said the nearly $3 million awarded in Washington County is among the largest cash grants FEMA has ever given out through the program.

The application was coordinated by the Washington County Fire Defense Board, on which each of Washington County's fire chiefs sit.

In addition to the grant to replace the breathing equipment, the Banks Fire District applied separately for, and received, a nearly $400,000 award for improvements at fire stations. That smaller FEMA grant will allow Banks Fire to include a training facility at the station it plans to build in Buxton, an unincorporated community northwest of Banks, and install a diesel exhaust system to reduce volunteer firefighters' exposure to vehicle emissions while working at the main fire station in Banks.

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