City asking for federal funds for firefighters

Published 10:38 pm Saturday, June 20, 2009

The city is asking for the federal government’s help purchasing a new brush truck, exercise equipment and thermal imaging cameras for the city’s firefighters.

“We want to take advantage of the funding to bring a newer, more modern vehicle into our fleet,” said Chief Mark Outlaw.

The city currently owns only one brush truck, although several volunteer departments in rural areas of the city own one. A brush truck is a specialized piece of equipment for fighting forest and grass fires.

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The city’s current brush truck is more than 12 years old, according to a letter from Mayor Linda T. Johnson to U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., asking for his help in securing the funding.

Federal funds would total $64,000 through the Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters grant program. The city would put $16,000 toward the truck, according to the letter.

“The City of Suffolk has determined a major problem/risk exists with the inadequate number of wild land firefighting apparatus available to the citizens of Suffolk,” Johnson wrote. “With such a large area of undeveloped land, brush fires/wild land fires are a regular occurrence in the City of Suffolk.”

Johnson continued to say that an additional brush truck would help alleviate the problem — a statement that Outlaw confirmed.

“We felt like a brush truck is a priority,” Outlaw said.

A brush truck differs from other trucks in the fire service because it is smaller, weighs less and has four-wheel drive, Outlaw said. It also has special hose reels that are able to accommodate long lengths of hose for pumping water into wooded areas.

“The largest difference is maneuverability,” Outlaw said. “It’s more like a Jeep. It can get over debris and smaller ditches.”

Wild land fires have been increasing in Suffolk in recent years, Outlaw said, even as the city’s only brush truck continues to get older.

Outlaw said the proposal to have federal taxes fund the truck “seems to have touched a spot” but noted that it would be funded by taxpayers either way.

“Any grant that you get, whether it’s federal or state, is funded by taxpayers,” Outlaw said. “Grants have been around since I’ve been here. It’s not unusual for any locality to be putting in for these grants.”

A separate grant request through the same program asks the federal government for $118,000 to help purchase cardiovascular exercise equipment for each fire station and thermal imaging cameras.

The city is proposing the purchase of seven treadmills, seven cross trainers and seven upright cardio bicycles. Each of the city’s seven stations would receive one of each piece of equipment. The equipment is needed to keep the city’s firefighters in optimal health, Outlaw said.

“We’re trying to standardize our fitness equipment around the city,” Outlaw said. “This certainly will improve the health of the firefighter. Their stamina needs to be at a higher rate than normal folks.”

The grant also will purchase thermal imaging cameras. The cameras are used to identify “hot spots.”