Grants provide helping hand to area fire departments
About 19,000 fire departments apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency grants each year.
For Fire Chief Ben Hayes and his Stranger Township staff, FEMA grants have provided important upgrades for the department.
Last year, Stranger received about $56,000 from FEMA. This year, the agency granted the local department $22,000.
The first grant helped Stranger refurbish its tanker with a new Kenworth chassis. It also provided a 500 gallons-per-minute pump for the vehicle.
Randy Gilliam, a Stranger Township captain who also is the department's grant writer, said the grants have been extremely beneficial to the fire department.
"Without the last few grants we received we'd be driving older equipment," Gilliam said. "We wouldn't be as prepared."
And, Gilliam said, because of mutual aid agreements in Leavenworth County, Stranger Township's equipment is used to assist other departments.
"It benefits all the surrounding departments," Gilliam said.
A second FEMA grant went toward purchase of various equipment, including a fill station for the department's self-contained breathing apparatus, said fire chief Ben Hayes.
"What it will allow us to do is that when we're filling those bottles, it will allow us to have it inside in an explosion-proof case with regulators," Hayes said. "When you fill these bottles they get very warm. Across the years, every once in a while, something fails. And there have been people get hurt when these blow up."
Area fire chiefs and grant writers know FEMA grants can be hard to come by. Roughly 19,000 departments across the nation apply for the grants. FEMA has $750 million allocated for grants to departments that have an excess of $2.5 billion in requests.
"Almost every department in the United States applies for this grant," Hayes said.
Each of the last two years, Stranger Township has received $1,000 matching grants from the forestry department for suits specially designed for firefighters to wear when fighting grass fires.
"When you're fighting grass fires in full firefighting gear, we've had people get sick and people get heat stroke," Hayes said. "This stuff is much lighter and fire-resistant. It's going to work a lot better."
Stranger Township also received a $500 community service grant from Wal-Mart toward the fire suits.
Tonganoxie Fire Chief Dave Bennett said his department did not receive a FEMA grant this year.
Last year, however, Tonganoxie was awarded a $57,000 grant that provided various items, including bunker gear, radio equipment and nozzles.
"It was a whole gamut of things we put in for," Bennett said.
The Kansas Safe Kids Coalition, through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, provided smoke detectors through a $4,000 grant.
And this year, a $7,000 Department of Justice grant will allow Tonganoxie to purchased two air packs, which are the bottles firefighters wear on their backs.
Another grant, available for applications in January, would help pay full-time firefighters' salaries.
Through the National Fire Administration, part of FEMA and Homeland Security, departments can qualify for such grants.
The grant would pay for 80 percent of the salary the first year, then 50 percent the second and 30 the third.
If Tonganoxie were awarded the grant, the department would increase by two full-time firefighters, bringing the total to five full-time staffers.
"I'm excited about that," Bennett said. "With preliminary discussions, it looks like we'll meet most of the criteria for increasing our staff."
Tonganoxie Township Fire Chief Tom Pulkrabek hasn't heard word on grants this year. However, in 2002 and 2003, his department received a total of between $70,000 and $75,000.
In the first year, Tonganoxie Township used money to purchase some bunker gear and in the second year upgraded their self-contained breathing apparatus to current standards and purchased new hand-held radios because the department's were obsolete, Pulkrabek said.
The department also received $2,000 matching grants in two of the last three years through the Volunteer Fire Assistance grants through the Kansas Forestry Service.
Pulkrabek noted that the grants are providing a 500 percent return on taxpayers' dollars. For every 20 cents local taxpayers spend, Tonganoxie Township is receiving $1 worth of equipment.
"We can't argue with that," Pulkrabek said.