GHENT—Three Columbia County fire departments will share in a half-million-dollar grant to help them purchase essential breathing equipment.
U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles “Chuck” Schumer, announced in a September 3 press release that more than $5 million in federal funding has been awarded to 36 fire departments, municipalities and ambulance corps across the state “to bolster New York’s firefighter force and to provide essential PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] for firefighters responding to the Covid-19 outbreak.”
Ghent Volunteer Fire Company #1 has made attempts at applying for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) before, but had “just no luck,” Ghent Fire Chief Anthony Brahm told The Columbia Paper this week.
So, when his fire company applied for the 2020 AFG Covid-19 Supplemental Program, it was decided to take a regional approach for shared services, enlisting both the Chatham and Niverville Fire Departments to join in as co-applicants.
The strategy paid off.
The Ghent Fire Company and its co-applicants will receive $495,714.29 in funding through this Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant, around since 2001, which helps firefighters and other first responders obtain critically needed equipment, protective gear, emergency vehicles, training and other resources necessary for protecting the public and emergency personnel from fire and related hazards.
“We need air packs desperately,” Chief Brahm said by phone Tuesday. Both Chatham and Niverville will need them by next year. Since the three fire companies routinely respond with mutual aid to each other’s emergency calls under the county dispatch task force system, it is beneficial for each company to have new, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) at the same time.
SCBA “is a key component of [first responders] PPE when entering hazardous environments. This funding will allow our first responders to have the PPE they need to be able to do their job safely and allow everyone to go home to their families after the emergency incident,” Chief Brahm said in a press release.
Ghent Fire Chief for the past five years, Mr. Brahm said the grant money is strictly for new air packs. He noted that in a recent fire company budget, $7,000 apiece was allocated for just one air pack, two spare bottles and a mask.
If the grant had not been secured, the fire companies and the municipalities they serve “would have tried to scrape up the money somehow” either by taking out a loan or issuing a bond, he said.
“This is a huge savings for our companies and taxpayers,” said Chief Brahm, who estimates Ghent’s share of the grant at about $130,000.
Ghent has about 25 active firefighters, Niverville has 34 and Chatham has about 30.
The formula for determining the number of air packs each company needs is not based on active firefighters, but “by the number of riding seats in [each company’s] apparatus,” Chatham Fire Chief Eric Barnes said in phone interview.
“Chatham, Ghent and Niverville have worked together for years. Cost sharing and sharing services that will benefit the taxpayers is a goal for all of us. Working together to secure a nearly half-million-dollar grant for this community is an honor. We could not be happier at this point… to be able to provide our volunteers with state of the art breathing protection,” Chief Barnes said in a press release.
‘We need air packs desperately.’
Chief Anthony Brahm
Ghent Volunteer Fire Co. #1
Niverville Fire Chief Chris Dedrick said by phone this week that thanks goes to Congressman Antonio Delgado (D-19th), along with town and state officials, who offered their support. “This represents a huge savings we would otherwise not be able to afford,” he said.
“This grant could not have come at a better time,” Village of Chatham Mayor John Howe said in a release.
A former Chatham fire chief and county fire coordinator, Mayor Howe said, “The village was facing a very large challenge, given the financial stress of Covid-19, in coming up with nearly $200,000 to replace the much needed and required SCBA.”
Ghent Chief Brahm said he expects the funding to be released soon. He said, “We must spend the money first, then submit vouchers and be reimbursed.”
The chief thanked FEMA, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, Congressman Delgado and his fellow representatives, and all others involved, for supporting this program and securing the funding.