Niagara Gazette, Niagara Falls, N.Y.
Aug. 21—Falls Fire Chief Joe Pedulla wore a look of relief Friday afternoon.
Western New York Congressman Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo/Niagara Falls) had come to town to announce a $314,000 grant for the Falls Fire Department and Pedulla said the money could not have arrived at a more critical moment.
“We haven’t been able to fill our air bottles because the filling station (at the Royal Avenue Fire Station) broke down,” Pedulla said. “And our air packs are 20 years old, which means they’re expiring this year.”
For a fire service that relies on having working breathing apparatus available to enter into buildings to battle blazes, that left city firefighters facing a life-threatening situation.
“We were taking our tanks to a North Tonawanda fire station to fill them,” Pedulla said. “We’ve been calling other fire departments that we knew were getting new (air packs) and asking if we could pillage the parts from their discarded apparatus to use to fix ours.”
The federal grant that Higgins delivered will now provide the Falls Fire Department with a badly needed lifeline.
“The work of a firefighter is tough, dangerous and selfless,” Higgins said. “This federal grant fills a great need to ensure Niagara Falls firefighters are protected and have the tools necessary to serve the city’s residents, businesses and visitors.”
The grant, which totals $314,718, was funded by the Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) Grant program.
“This is the third time we applied for this grant,” Pedulla said. “The first two times, we were denied. So the third time is a charm.”
The grant funding will be used to purchase 36 new self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBAs) for firefighters, as well as a new filling station for the devices. The fire department will also purchase 22 new air bottles and 120 new face pieces for the apparatus so that every city firefighter will have their own individual face piece.
“Again, we are grateful to Congressman Higgins for his advocacy and assistance,” Falls Mayor Robert Restaino said. “We were shocked by the state of (the department’s) equipment over the last decade. We knew we had to address it especially because this is a safety issue.”
Restaino said as soon as the grant money has been cleared into city coffers, he has given Pedulla the green light to order the new equipment.
SCBAs are critical devices for firefighters because they provide breathable air in environments with insufficient oxygen, smoke or dangerous gases, and other hazardous airborne contaminants.
“Each time our firefighters put these air packs on they risk entering a very dangerous situation,” Pedulla said. “They deserve the best equipment we can provide.”
Leaders of the fire department’s two unions also expressed appreciation for the grant funding.
“This is an example of the good things our federal government can do to provide front line workers at the local level with the tools necessary to best serve our community,” Firefighter Noah Masur, president of Niagara Falls Firefighters Local 714, said. “With this grant, we can quickly replace our obsolete SCBAs and hit the ground running with modern equipment.”
“There may be no other article of firefighter protective equipment more essential than our breathing apparatus,” Fire Captain Jason Cafarella, president of Niagara Falls Fire Officers Local 3359, said.
The Falls’ AFG grant is one of only 2,000 made nationwide to fire departments, non-affiliated EMS organizations, and State Fire Training Academies (SFTAs) to enhance public safety and health protections, as well as protections for first responders. Since 2001, the program has awarded $7.7 billion in grants.
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