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The Daily Tar Heel

Grant Gives Firefighters New Equipment

The Federal Emergency Management Agency granted the Chapel Hill Fire Department's request for $183,375 in financial assistance.

The apparatus was made possible after Fire Captain Caprice Mellon requested a grant last spring for financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The agency responded to Mellon's petition, granting $183,375 in federal funds -- the second largest grant statewide, second only to Apex's $315,000.

The Assistance to Firefighters Program established the FEMA grant to help stations statewide purchase protective equipment.

FEMA will issue $100 million by Sept. 30 in two-year grants to fire departments across the nation.

The Chapel Hill Fire Department opted to use the newly allocated money to purchase new breathing apparatuses and replace equipment that is more than 10 years old.

Price, who presented the fire department with a large check, said last week's terrorist attacks have increased awareness of the significant role firefighters play in the community.

"We think it's important to recognize the Chapel Hill Fire Department for the work they're doing," Price said.

During the presentation of the grant, Price spoke about the importance of using equipment that protects the lives of firefighters and enables them to work more efficiently.

The new apparatus enables two firefighters to share a single air unit, a technique called buddy breathing.

Older breathing equipment, utilized during the past 10 years, hindered the ability of firefighters to transfer air if they were injured.

"If you've never sucked in a lung full of sooty, greasy smoke, you can't understand how debilitating it is," Captain Mary Blevins said.

Battalion Chief David Louis said the new breathing equipment also includes form-fitting face masks and comfortable straps.

Another feature of the face mask will help warn firefighters when air supply is low.

The mask will vibrate instead of beeping, giving firefighters a clearer indication that they are in danger.

The new equipment, including the mask, is lighter in weight and will allow firefighters to engage in rescue efforts for longer periods of time.

"The new technology is going to make life safer and easier for the firefighters," Louis said.

Although the FEMA grant was issued before last week's tragic events, the newly appropriated funds have proven timely as rescue efforts of firefighters enter the national spotlight.

"(The tragedy) has helped us recognize what we owe to firefighters every day," Price said.

The impact of last week's terrorist attacks might also affect future distribution of federal grants to fire departments.

"(Hopefully), this grant program will be continued beyond its two-year appropriation," said Fire Chief Dan Jones.

"Everybody is beginning to realize the role that firefighters play in the community -- it's not just fighting fires anymore."

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