Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Richard Neal joined city and public safety officials in Pittsfield today to announce a federal grant that will help the city upgrade its fire safety equipment.
Congressman Neal joined Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski, and other state and local officials to announce a $132,300 federal award to help the city purchase and upgrade all of its air packs for its fire team. The respirators are an essential tool to allow firefighters to enter harmful environments when on the scene. The Assistance to Firefighters Grant is a program of the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Congressman Neal said that the award comes at a time when cities and towns across his territory, Massachusetts’ first district, and the nation have been forced to make difficult cuts to their public safety budgets.
“During the beginning of the recession, this five-year ensuring period, 600,000 local government workers have lost their jobs,” said Neal. “The Department of Homeland Security and its establishment was for the purpose of not only responding to international threats, but just as importantly, preparing our first responders for local threats.”
Neal said that in his district particularly, supplying local fire departments with adequate funding to upgrade their safety equipment is a priority due to the large amount of aging properties.
“I think it’s pronounced in New England because of the number of old buildings. And for the firefighter that enters those old buildings, there’s great risk,” said Neal.
The Assistance to Firefighters Grant program was started in 2001 to help fire departments across the country bring their protective equipment, gear, training, and vehicles into working order.
Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski also said that since 9/11 terrorism remains a challenge departments must be prepared for. In addition to protecting firefighters from smoke, the new respirators the city will purchase will protect against chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and other environmental hazards.
Czerwinski also said that in order to use the grant the city will pay for a portion of the cost needed to replace the respirators.
“The $132,300 that the federal government has given us has to be supplemented by $14,700 by the city, which is going to bring us up to $147,000,” said Czerwinski.
Czerwinski also said that the new respirators will help the department keep up with ever-changing standards on protective equipment.
Standing in the garage of the Pittsfield Fire Department, Deputy Fire Chief Mark Cancilla, one of the writer s of the proposal for the FEMA grant for new respirators, said that state and federal dollars have also supported the department in other ways, and remain necessary for equipment to remain up in operation.
Cancilla said that Pittsfield received the funding in a competition that included 20,000 proposals from across the country.