NEW MADRID - New Madrid's firefighters will be better prepared thanks to a Department of Homeland Security Assistance to Firefighters Grant.
The community is one of 18 fire departments across Missouri slated to receive the grant according to a news release from Sen. Claire McCaskill. The grant is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in association with the U.S. Fire Association.
New Madrid Fire Chief Jimmy Harris said the funds will enable the department to purchase personal protective turnout gear along with a washer/extractor which will be used to clean the items. Harris said the grant will fund the $19,796 cost for the turnout gear, which includes protective coats and pants, and $8,500 for the washer/extractor.
The funds will enable the department to provide protective gear for every member.
"No one has had a new set of turnout gear. Oh, we have replaced a piece here or there but not an entirely new set," said Harris, who noted the coat he wears to fight fires is more than 20 years old and "water comes right through."
An earlier 50/50 grant through the Missouri Department of Conservation funded six new sets of turnout gear with the city of New Madrid providing the $3,000 funding match. Harris expects to purchase 14 more sets.
The fire chief said when the order is placed, the company will come in and measure each fireman to ensure a proper fit. He said it could take two months or more after the order is placed for the fire department to receive the items.
The sixth year the department has sought funding for improved equipment, this is the first time New Madrid has received the grant. Harris explained he attended two grant seminars which provided insight into the grant process and also was assisted in writing the grant application narrative by Tonya Carruth with the New Madrid Resource Center.
"We changed our strategy, did things a little differently and got lucky," said Harris.
Among the changes was the request for the washer/extractor. Harris explained in the past firefighters had to wash and dry their gear and a dryer can shorten the lifespan of the items. At the grant seminar, it was explained a washer/extractor was considered essential for maintaining the gear and a grant would not be considered without including it as a part of their request.
According to Harris, the machine spins the water out of the clothing so rapidly there is no need to use a dryer.
The fire chief said his department also submitted a federal grant request for $250,000 to purchase a new fire truck. If received, the grant would enable the local fire department to replace its First Responders' truck, which is more than 30 years old.
It may be several more months, Harris said, before he learns whether this grant will be approved or denied.
Meanwhile, he continued, he is just pleased with the prospect of the new gear and what it will mean for the department's ability to fight fires.
"The big plus is it gives us the ability to operate offensively instead of defensively," he said.
Harris explained because of the lack of proper equipment previously the firefighters did not enter a structure that was on fire. With the new turnout gear and the recent addition of air packs, fire personnel are now able to fight a blaze inside as well as outside a building.
"The gear will make a difference in how we attack a fire and at the same time make it safer for us," he said.
Which is just what the grants are designed to do, according to federal officials.
"It's so important that our local responders have the tools they need to get the job done right," said McCaskill in the grant announcement. "This grant money will provide fire fighters with the resources necessary to safely and effectively protect Missourians all across our state."