Easthampton wins $600K in federal grants for fire department

  • Gear taken off by Easthampton firefighters after they were done battling a house fire on May 18, 2017.   GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Easthampton Fire Chief David Mottor at the city’s public safety complex on Payson Avenue. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/11/2019 10:30:59 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The city has secured two grants totaling $613,278 from the Federal Emergency Management Administration that will be used toward the hiring of four new firefighters and the purchase of new equipment for the fire department.

The only municipality in Massachusetts and one of 29 in the country to receive a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant, Easthampton will use the $604,706 award to hire four new firefighters.

A second award from FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighter Grants totals $8,572 for a protective gear dryer, which will help reduce exposure to toxic materials that may remain on firefighters’ uniforms following emergency calls.

Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said the city has applied unsuccessfully for the SAFER grant in the past. She said the city foresaw a shortage of firefighters within the next five years due to retirement while forecasting future revenues.

“Between the forecasting model combined with retirement information and also just expected pressure on the fire department, we saw a gap in funding,” she said.

Fire Chief David Mottor said the current staffing model for the city’s fire department has been in place since 1976, when fire crews responded to 1,266 emergency calls for service at six employees per shift. In 2018, the department responded to 3,011 calls, according to a post on the department’s Facebook page. Staffing levels per shift have not changed since 1976, Mottor said.

Mottor said the SAFER grant is for three years, with federal funds covering the first two completely while the city pays for the majority of the third year. During the grant period, staffing will be at 31 firefighters at seven per shift, he said, and the department must maintain that level even if employees retire. Once the grant period is over, Mottor said the city can drop back to whatever staffing level it wants.

“This grant will allow us to reduce our response times to calls when we have multiple emergencies simultaneously as well as provide for safer fire ground operations for our firefighters,” Mottor said in a statement.

“Seven firefighters on duty is huge for a department of our size,” he said in a separate interview.

LaChapelle said the smaller grant for a protective gear dryer will help keep city firefighters safe by extracting dangerous materials from uniforms. She said in her two years in office, she has seen how occupational cancer affects firefighters in the department, as they are exposed to many toxins on the job. LaChapelle said the dryer would not normally be something the city would be able to afford.

“For a small city like Easthampton, this is a great new technology to reduce that exposure (to toxins),” she said.

Mottor explained the process through which firefighters clean their gear, saying that after calls, firefighters wash their uniforms in a heavy-duty washer. Since the department doesn’t currently have a dryer, he said it takes two to three days for the uniforms to air dry. A new gear dryer can reduce that drying time to only 12 hours, he said.

“With a gear dryer, our firefighters will have the primary set of gear back in service quicker, providing them with the highest level of protection,” Mottor said in a statement.

An official announcement of the grants is scheduled for Friday at 4 p.m. at the Public Safety Complex, and will feature U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, alongside LaChapelle and Mottor.

“Our public safety officers across Massachusetts make incredible efforts to protect residents, and our fire departments are faced with particular hazards to their long-term health and well-being,” Neal said in the statement, noting he was proud of the work that went into securing the grants.

“I congratulate the recipients for all of their efforts securing these grants and express my gratitude for their service on the front lines keeping Massachusetts safe,” Markey said in the statement.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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