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Fire department awarded FEMA grant

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From Staff Reports

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Rocky Mount Fire Department has been awarded a $154,091 Assistance to Firefighters Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The primary goal of the grant is to enhance the safety of the public and firefighters with respect to fire-related hazards by providing direct financial assistance to eligible fire departments, nonaffiliated Emergency Medical Services organizations and State Fire Training Academies.

“Although we have had some success in the past with applying for AFG grants, you never know how things will go when you apply,” Fire Department Administrative Capt. Kim Wittig said in a press release. “There are so many agencies across the country that have unmet needs for day-to-day operations, so this particular grant process is very competitive. The long waiting period has a tendency to make you think you aren’t getting funded, so we were ecstatic to get the news of the award.”

The grant award totaling $154,091 will allow each of the department’s stations to be outfitted with heavy duty washers and dryers specialized for cleaning turnout gear and removing the deadly carcinogens that are deposited on the gear during structural firefighting. Currently, the department has one machine approved for gear washing. That washer is 25 years old and only has the capacity to wash one set of gear at a time, making the process for cleaning an entire crew after a fire very time consuming.

Cancer has quickly become the leading cause of death for firefighters, and Rocky Mount has not been immune. Eight retirees within the past few years have been diagnosed, and a recent voluntary cancer screening by cancerdogs.ca indicated 33 of the 127 members tested positive for cancer indicators.

“Our greatest asset is our people,” Fire Chief Corey Mercer said. “Our ability to protect lives and property in our community is dependent upon protecting the lives of our employees while they work. Having healthy, well-equipped people with clean gear and significantly reducing their chance of being diagnosed with cancer affords us the opportunity to continue our mission to serve the city of Rocky Mount by protecting lives and property through quality and excellence in service.”

Each grant application undergoes multiple reviews and scoring by teams of volunteers from the fire service from organizations all over the country. Because of the extensive review process and receiving over 8,400 grants for the 2018 application cycle, it has taken 10 months for the first round of grants to be awarded.

“Thanks to the continued support of our city manager and council we have been able to provide our firefighters with two sets of gear,” Wittig said. “That, combined with this funding from the AFG program to keep that gear clean, means we can virtually eliminate the possibility that a firefighter ever has to take the chance of wearing contaminated gear. It was well worth the 10-month wait to get this exciting news for our firefighters.”

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