Fire department receives $34K grant for protective gear

By HASKEL BURNS,

A $34,300 grant from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation will allow the Hattiesburg Fire Department to purchase 15 new protective outfits, another step on the department’s way to outfit every firefighter with two separate outfits.

The application for the grant, which was submitted by grant writer Jennifer Shows, was recently approved by a 5-0 vote by Hattiesburg City Council members and includes LION V-Force Bi-Swing Coats and LION V-Force Hi-Back Pants.

“The reason that we asked for that gear is that we’ve added quite a few people,” Battalion Chief Barry Collins said. “According to national standards, that turnout gear has a design life, basically, of 10 years.

“It was considered obsolete after 10 years, mainly because of advances in the manufacturing technology and textiles that are used. Some of our gear has reached that 10-year mark, but honestly in Hattiesburg we’re a pretty busy department, and most of our gear doesn’t make it that long – its gets damaged or worn out before the 10-year point.”

Because the gear takes on so much wear and tear – as well as chemical exposure – during responses to fires and accident scenes, Fire Chief Sherrocko Stewart has set a goal two sets of gear for every member. The funds from the Firehouse Subs grant will get the department about halfway there, enabling every member to have one full set.

“It’s a starting point,” Collins said. “We have a process to clean and repair the gear, but it has to be taken out of service.

“So if we take gear out of service to be cleaned, it pretty much takes the firefighter out of service with it, because he can’t work without it. So our goal is to get two sets of gear so that we can establish a routine cleaning process, where a firefighter every month or so can turn in his gear to be cleaned. It can be properly cleaned and returned to him, and he can still be in service.”

In order to get to that goal, department officials may ask city officials for a slight budget increase. In the meantime, they’ll keep an eye out for any other grants they can qualify for.

“We’ll try to tighten up in other places and transfer that money towards gear,” Collins said. “And then we will be applying for other grants as we can identify them.

“Jennifer is doing a real good job of identifying these grants, and she and I are working together to write the grants.

“So we’ve got a couple of things in the works now. Some of these grants, you kind of have to ask for what they want to give you – a lot of them have certain priorities that if you expect to get anything out of it, you have to follow their priorities.”

The Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation was instituted for the purpose of providing lifesaving equipment to first responders. Through the program, a portion of all purchases at Firehouse Subs around the country goes to the foundation, which has to date provided more than $46 million in equipment, training and support to first responders.