NEW HAVEN — Through an Assistance to Firefighters grant, obtained through a competitive process from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, city firefighters are expected to be outfitted soon with breathing apparatuses based on the latest safety standards.
The breathing apparatuses used by New Haven firefighters are two generations old; parts have become more scarce and expensive, officials said Wednesday. They sound an alarm when a firefighter has roughly five minutes of oxygen left.
Among other changes, firefighters now will be notified when they have about 10 to 15 minutes of oxygen left. The difference represents “a lifetime” when feeling your way through a dark, unfamiliar, smoke-choked building, Assistant Chief Mark Vendetto said.
Mayor Justin Elicker, U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3, Fire Chief John Alston and Emergency Management Director Rick Fontana celebrated the grant Wednesday, describing the new equipment as a boon to firefighters and the funds as a boon to taxpayers.
Elicker said the department would be outfitted with 109 breathing apparatuses, 365 face masks and a new compressor. He praised city officials for submitting a competitive grant application, and thanked firefighters and other first responders for their service in recent months, as the city has dealt with the pandemic and major storms.
“We’re grateful for people putting themselves at risk for the community,” said Elicker. “Thank you for the work you are doing every day to keep people safe.”
Elicker said parts for the current apparatuses have become harder to find as the technology has aged. The city would be required to purchase new packs at some point; the grant helps the city with both an immediate expense and the costs of bonding the purchase, he said.
DeLauro said the funding came from a $355 million pool from the federal government, included as part of the typical appropriations process, which was open to fire departments across the country. The government will supply $836,000; the city will provide a 10 percent match, she said.
She said she was pleased to be there to celebrate the new funds.
“Our responsibility, those of us who serve, whether it’s in the legislature or on the Board of Aldermen … is to make sure that our firefighters have the best possible equipment. It protects them and it protects us,” said DeLauro. “They (deal) with life and death situations. … They rush to the fore to extinguish the danger. People are rushing out, but our firefighters are rushing in. … We are so, so grateful, and we are all humbled by your courage and your selflessness.”
Alston said the department was excited and happy to be able to be awarded the funds and upgrade to the latest technology.
“This is the next level of breathing apparatus,” said Alston. “This grant is going to save the citizens of New Haven a lot of money, close to a million dollars, (and) provide our firefighters with the ultimate protection, so we can send them home to their families after their tour the same or better than when they went in.”
Vendetto said the department’s current breathing packs were built based on the National Fire Protection Association’s 2007 update to its safety standards. The association has since updated its standards, in 2013 and 2018, he said.
Fontana said this is the fourth consecutive year the city has obtained an Assistance to Firefighters grant. Last year, the grant paid for the department’s heavy rescue vehicle, he said.
“I think the most important aspect of this is making sure that when firefighters enter an atmosphere that’s immediately dangerous to health, that they have the right equipment. And this gives them the right equipment,” said Fontana.
It’s a rarity to earn funds through this program year after year, DeLauro said. She praised the quality of the city’s efforts that brought the funds home.
Alston donned a new breathing apparatus. Along with Lt. Josh Vega and Firefighter Mike Milano, he entered a smoke-filled building on the campus of the department’s training academy. Visibility in the room was non-existent; the haze, although not actually formed from harmful smoke, was thick.
The three men walked through the building, then came out to rejoin the small crowd safe and sound.