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Firefighters entering a burning building or other hazardous situation rely on self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) to protect their eyes and lungs from smoke and other potential dangers. In East Haven, firefighters were responding with SCBA units well past their recommended useful life until an upgrade earlier this month.
On Aug. 1, the East Haven Fire Department (EHPD) put its new equipment into service, completing a project that began in 2017 with a $328,800 federal grant. With the 41 new SCBA units, every riding position in the department’s response vehicles is covered with an updated unit.
“No matter what happens, we’re going to be properly equipped to make sure the firefighters have proper respiratory protection,” said EHPD Chief Matt Marcarelli.
The tanks themselves also had not been replaced since 2005. With a manufacturer recommended lifespan of eight years, Marcarelli said the SCBA units were out of date in addition to needing repairs.
The new tanks can be charged to a higher pressure, enabling them to be smaller and lighter than the old tanks.
“The biggest improvement is that the face piece is rated for a higher temperature,” he said. “The mask will not fail as fast as the old ones.”
The tanks also contain improved technology that will help the department track what repairs need to be made to the systems. They also have an onboard tracking device and a paired receiver to help rescuers locate a missing firefighter in the event of an emergency.
Because of the different pressure level, the new tanks required a different kind of compressor to fill them, so the department also replaced its 30-year-old compressor, which Marcarelli said was also due for replacement.
“We were seeing an increased cost to repair and increased cost of ownership as it got older, so that needed to be replaced,” said Marcarelli.
While the old air compressor unit had been donated by Pratt & Whitney, the new equipment was paid for primarily by an Assistance to Firefighters Grant awarded by the U.S. Fire Administration in 2017.
“It’s really the only federal program that provides direct funding to departments,” Mararelli said. “Normally, when you get a grant, it has to go through a state or county government.”
Due to the competitive nature of the grant process, the EHPD did not receive the funds for this project the last time they applied for it.
The grant required that EHPD pay 10 percent of the cost—$29,000—from its budget. Marcarelli said the necessary transfers were made with the support of Town Council, the Board of Finance, and Mayor Joseph Maturo, Jr.
“We were encouraged to apply for these grants through the mayor’s office…and we were lucky enough to receive the award,” he said.
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