Fire District seeks grant for station upgrades

Fed up with exhaust fans that work only when the fire stations’ bay doors are open, Fire District 7 is applying this week for a federal grant to help pay for new ones.

As any homeowner with a garage knows, it’s very dangerous to let cars and trucks idle in a closed environment. Noxious gases and fumes quickly build up and can cause headaches, light-headedness and even death from prolonged exposure. Fire engines and aid cars, which use diesel fuel, let off even more toxins when running.

Starting up even a few garaged fire vehicles at once, explained Fire Chief Mike Brown, would create a health hazard almost immediately without some means of venting the fumes.

“That’s the time the smoke is the worst with diesel engines,” Brown said. “When it’s cold, it just kicks out that real black smoke.”

The fire stations’ current exhaust fans, although they provide some benefit, don’t work unless the bay doors are open and can’t handle exhaust produced by extended idling. If the fire crews need to warm up their vehicles or work on the rigs while the engine is going, they need to pull them outside or risk exhaust poisoning.

More modern systems, which the district hasn’t been able to afford, include roof-mounted fans attached to hoses that couple to the vehicles’ tailpipes. Not only do the hoses prevent any exhaust from leaching into the immediate surroundings, they also uncouple automatically when the vehicles start to pull away.

The estimated price tag to outfit all the district’s stations with these systems is nearly $330,000 — way beyond the district’s budgetary means. However, with a Fire Act grant, which offers a 70-30 match for qualifying programs, the district could have its exhaust system upgrade for $98,666. Although still pricey, Brown said the match amount is within the district’s means to afford.

“It would be further emptying our reserve funds, but yes, we do have money set aside to do this,” Brown said.

The district will hear whether its project has been selected sometime in late July or early August. At that point the district Board of Commissioners can choose to either accept the grant and commit the match funds, or reject the entire package.

Brown said he understood the district’s plan might not go over too well in the community, especially because the district has in the past claimed impending poverty during levy elections. However, he said he felt secure that he was making the best choice for the district employees and would “deal with” any criticism that might result.

“We want to make sure, as dangerous as the job is, (our firefighters) are able to do their job well,” Brown said. “We hope our community will understand the importance of this.”

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