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Fire district will get $333,333 to help pay for replacement of SCBA gear for firefighters

PMG PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - Scapppoose Fire District firefighter Ken Chaffeur demonstrates one of the the self-contained breathing apparatus used by firefighters. These units are being replaced thanks to grant funding from FEMA, which was awarded to the Scappoose Fire District in Septmeber.UPDATED 10/3/19 -- The Scappoose Fire District was recently awarded more than $330,000 in federal grant funding that will allow the district to replace outdated equipment for firefighters.

The fire district will be able to purchase 50 new self-contained breathing apparatuses thanks to a grant from FEMA's Assistance to Firefighters program. The fire district received $333,333 of grant funding, and will match the grant with $16,666, bringing the total project cost to $350,000.

The grant funding will allow the district to replace all of the SCBA units currently being used. The units are nearly 15 years old, and are no longer properly tested at that age, a press release from the fire district explained.

Jeff Pricher, the Scappoose Fire District division chief and Columbia County fire marshal, said the purchase will allow the district to safely outfit firefighters to do their jobs, but will also provide firefighters with updated technology. New SCBA masks contain features like onboard screen monitors that inform firefighters about how much air is left in their tanks and Bluetooth-enabled radio connections to allow firefighters to converse with others when their masks are on.

Additionally, the new apparatuses will be safer. In some instances, the old devices have been so heavily used they are suffering an effect called "crazing," when the heat of a fire causes the plastic of the face mask to become soft until it eventually fails and breaks down.

"Getting this grant is paramount for the safety of the firefighters and for the firefighters to do their jobs to serve the community," Pricher said.

Each new unit purchased will include a face mask, a bottle of air and a spare bottle, Pricher explained. Each set costs just under $6,000. The new apparatuses will also meet current industry and safety standards and will include a variety of technological upgrades that will enhance the user experience for firefighters, the release adds.

The fire district filed an application for the competitive FEMA grant in October 2018. More than 8,400 grant applications were submitted. FEMA had about $345 million in grant funding available.

Without the grant funding, it would be difficult for the fire department to expeditiously pay for the new equipment. With a permanent tax rate in place, and a set operating levy approved by voters, the district has a limited amount of money it can generate to maintain operations.

Additionally, the expense associated with replacing or upgrading equipment has increased as it's become more difficult to save funds, Pricher added.

"We would not have been able to make this purchase to keep our firefighters safe without the grant," Pricher said.

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