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Neal presents Fire Department with grant, tours facility

Date: 1/24/2013

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — Congressman Richard Neal became one of the first to get a look at the newly renovated main fire station when he stopped by to present the Fire Department with a federal Department of Homeland Security Assistance to Firefighter's Grant.

Neal met with Fire Chief Francis Nothe and members of the Fire Department in the re-done apparatus bays to announce the $79,338 grant on Jan. 18. The federal government will provide $75,004, while the town is responsible for the remainder of the grant.

"Congratulations to the chief and his staff ... for what I think is the assembling of a pretty good document that stands up under a magnifying glass and that magnifying glass is pretty competitive as it relates to the Department of Homeland Security," Neal said.

The grant funding will be used for the installation of a vehicle exhaust system at the fire station that will remove diesel exhaust fumes from inside the apparatus bays and the purchase of an Air Pack system for the fire headquarters.

"It means that the atmosphere in which firemen and women will be working here in Wilbraham will be upgraded significantly," Neal said. "As a public safety matter, it's not just important that they get to the site of the fire, but it's also the atmosphere in which they work."

Neal said that the air filtration system was an especially important aspect of the grant, as the effects of diesel exhaust on the respiratory system have been well documented.

"Diesel fuel exhaust is known for its carcinogen production and lessening that is a good thing for all of us," he said.

Nothe added that the new Air Pack system would also benefit the department, which currently has to go through a difficult process in order to fill its air supply canisters for its firefighters.

"Right now we have to load bottles into a pickup truck and take them over to Ludlow to be filled," he said. "They weigh about 100 pounds a bottle and [there is] a lot of juggling of equipment and personnel just to get breathing air."

Neal said the grants issued through the Department of Homeland Security represent a commitment by the federal government to support local public safety departments.

"It acknowledges the role that first responders play and it encourages the upgrade at the local level of equipment status," he said. "It encourages you to be creative and innovative and not to dismiss the fact that in the aftermath of [the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001], we took a second look at how we would upgrade first responders at the local level."

Neal also praised the department for its ongoing pursuit of these grants and Nothe for his continued participation in conversations regarding support for local fire departments.

"As the chief has noted, the grants achieved by him and his staff are now north of $300,000. For a small town, that's a big deal," Neal said. "The chief has been a regular visitor every spring to [Washington] D.C. and I can't tell you how important that is, just to keep these issues on the front of the radar screen [and] just to keep that conversation going."

Nothe thanked Neal for his continued support of the Wilbraham Fire Department and the Assistance to Firefighter's Grant program.

"The congressman has always been on the side of the fire service and public safety in general. The whole Massachusetts delegation has been very supportive of this program," Nothe said. "The program is for firefighter safety, but it also improves community safety because it improves our state of readiness and we're able to better serve the community because of it."

State Rep. Angelo Puppolo Jr. added, "There is no greater friend that the town of Wilbraham has than Congressman Neal in terms of what he has been able to bring back to the town of Wilbraham and to the entire area."

The Fire Department has now officially moved back into the Boston Road fire headquarters after spending several months operating out of its second station on Woodland Dell Road during the renovation.

Nothe said that the project is now 95 percent done and Project Manager Lance Trevallion recently said Western Builders, the contractor doing the work, is "way ahead of schedule."