Bradford County Distributes Grants To Fire Companies
At the June 16 Bradford County Commissioners’ meeting, representatives from four local fire companies were on hand to accept funds for new equipment as part of the 2011 Volunteer Fire and Emergency Responders Grant Program. The program is supported by a Northern Tier Solid Waste natural gas drilling fund, but commissioners suggested that gas companies and related industries could do more to help financially-strapped first response units dealing with increased calls directly related to the drilling boom.
“All of the first responders are doing a great job under circumstances that we never predicted,” said commissioner Doug McLinko. “The gas industry needs to step up and understand what these guys are dealing with. They get up and leave their homes, meals, and families over and over again.”
“Our volunteers are presented with constantly increasing call volumes, while their resources continue to be strained. This grant program provides much needed revenue to improve and enhance the capabilities of our volunteer emergency services throughout the county,” commissioner Mark Smith added in a statement released after the meeting. “The commissioners are very happy to be able to support our local responders who have had seen such an increase in demands for their services. After careful deliberation from the Emergency Responders Grant Program Committee, the following agencies were chosen to receive grant funds.”
North Towanda Fire Department (NTFD) received a $9,500 grant for rescue tools, which include two new low-pressure, high-lift air cushions that will increase the company’s ability to lift and stabilize overturned tankers and other large vehicles that were previously too dangerous to move. According to NTFD assistant chief Jazz Sheetz, the company also has high-pressure low-lift cushions. The versatility of the equipment will permit use for a variety of motor vehicle accidents, as well as extractions from collapsed or compromised buildings.
Smithfield Fire Department garnered an equal amount of funding for a similar use. The department will purchase a 136-ton air bag kit that will serve as a welcome replacement for a smaller 30-year-old unit that recently failed testing. The air bag unit will assist firefighters responding to calls for rescuing victims trapped under heavy objects and can be made available to neighboring companies for whom Smithfield operates as a second responder.
Troy firefighters will purchase new gas monitors with a $1,900 grant that can be employed at rescue scenes where toxic fumes have the potential to overwhelm rescue personnel, and Wysox Fire Department was awarded $1,500 to purchase motor vehicle rescue tools, such as a backup portable rescue pump, emergency warning signs for accidents, detours and emergency scenes, and a plasma cutter. The new equipment will be useful for motor vehicle accidents and gas well emergencies, as well as farm rescues.
Recently-appointed Bradford County Director of Public Safety Robert Barnes was one of five committee members who oversaw the grant selection process. At the commissioners’ meeting, he related that there were 11 applications to review.
“It was a tough process,” he said of the committee’s job to narrow down the requests for grants to match available funds. In addition to the individual needs of each department, committee members looked at how requested equipment related to demand for apparatus on a regional level, including tools that related to situations unique to challenges posed by the presence of gas drilling-related industries.
While taking into account what the county’s Emergency Management Department (EMD) already knew was available through mutual aid to the agency, Barnes noted afterward, “We did indeed consider the number of wells and responses made in a jurisdiction to gas industry-related events, as the source of the money for these grants is ultimately the gas industry.” He added that the justification for needs of individual departments remained a key factor. In a previous interview, Barnes had cited Wysox in particular as a community that has experienced as much as a 15 percent increase in accident calls in the last year and as much as 30 percent over the past three years.
Wysox assistant chief Ray McGuire estimated that as many as 80 percent of the 156 calls the company had responded to as of June 16 were gas company-related, including accidents and truck breakdowns. He was pleased to report, however, that the fire company has taken on some new recruits in recent months, which has provided a break for “the same 10 to 12 people that respond to most of the calls.” Sheetz of NTFD reported that his company had responded to 93 calls as of the same date, while the previous average number of calls per year was 110.
Smith remarked that all of the applications were completed with great details and applauded recipients of the grant for their ability to prioritize and articulate their needs. “We are proud to be able to do this for our volunteers in a time when they need all the resources they can get,” he stated.
EMA Intern Introduced to Commissioners
In related news, Barnes introduced Hannah Harvey-Simpson of Sayre as a new intern working with Bradford County EMD. Simpson, who will be a sophomore at Ithaca College this year, is pursuing a degree in business administration and minoring in legal studies. She has already been instrumental with many aspects of the department’s daily business, Barnes noted.
“Her primary function is to work with the LPEC (Local Emergency Planning Committee) documentation and recording of hazardous materials plans for LPEC,” he said of Simpson. “However, we have been so engaged with damage assessment and striving to be eligible for federal disaster designation from the April storms, that she is a tremendous help with all of the documentation that that requires.”