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New fire suits purchased through federal grant

Date: 10/2/2014

EAST LONGMEADOW – State and local officials gathered at the fire station on Sept. 29 to celebrate a $70,200 federal fire apparatus grant recently awarded to the Fire Department. The grant will be used to purchase 27 sets of new protective firefighter equipment.

“I can say this with great confidence, but more importantly with higher accuracy ... I don’t think I have a community that’s done better with fire grants from the Department of Homeland Security than East Longmeadow,” Congressman Richard Neal said.

This is the eighth year that the Fire Department has been awarded a federal fire-related grant since 2002, Fire Chief Paul Morrissette said. The grant program began in 2001.

Neal said that fire grants have contributed to roughly $700,000 in aid to the department during the last eight years.

The old 11-year-old firefighter equipment had a layer of rubber on the outside and a helmet with little compactness or shielding for a firefighter’s head and face, he added.

All the new firefighter suits have three layers of protection, including a moisture layer that protects firefighters from any water trapped in their suit that could turn to steam under high temperatures. The outside thermal barrier layer is also comprised of flame retardant material.

The new helmet also features padding that is more protective of the head and a visor for shielding.

“As technology progresses, we get better equipment,” Morrissette added.

Another new feature of the suits is a 50-foot personal escape rope that can be hooked onto stable areas to scale an average four-story building, Morrissette explained.

Fire Capt. Benjamin Cote wore the entire 80-pound firefighter suit and explained the procedure of using a personal escape rope to onlookers.

“One of the things that kind of hits home with us is the Worcester cold storage fire [in 1999] where six firefighters lost their lives,” Morrissette said. “That brought to light the need for equipment that firefighters use on a daily basis.”

Four of the six firefighters in the Worcester cold storage fire lived in Western Massachusetts, Neal added.

“Nothing in my experience ever in these communities has brought these communities together, their hearts beating as one heart, the way the loss of firefighters and police officers have brought,” state Sen. Gale Candaras said.

State Rep. Brian Ashe said federal grants for fire are extremely competitive across the Commonwealth and the nation.

“To have a Fire Department with leadership like Chief Morrissette; I commend what they do, day in and day out,” Ashe stated.

Selectman Angela Thorpe said last year the department purchased a self-contained breathing apparatus, which allows firefighters to enter areas with dangerous atmospheres.

“The new compressor replaced the department’s non-functional 22-year-old compressor,” she added. “It was installed last October and has been in service since.”

Morrissette said a fire equipment operating budget for the department consists of 5 percent of the annual town budget.

“It’s critically important,” said state Rep. Angelo Puppolo Jr. “Their service, we all know, is dangerous and we all appreciate their commitment to the town and their commitment to fighting fires.”