By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – Fire Department equipment upgrades approved at the Jan. 7 City Council meeting — including self-contained breathing apparatus, a station alerting system and an exhaust fan — will enhance first responder safety and effectiveness.
Fire Chief Stephen Portis and Shift Captains Al Young and Chad Cousigno attended the Jan. 6 council study session to answer city officials’ questions prior to the Jan. 7 vote.
Approved were $375,000 for self-contained breathing apparatus, or SCBA, funded by the Fire Department equipment fund; $82,720 for a new station alerting system, to be funded by the Fire Department equipment fund and a capital outlay account; and $4,566 for an exhaust fan, which will draw from the general and equipment fund.
Since the department’s last purchase of SCBA equipment in 2010, the non-profit National Fire Protection Association has twice upgraded SCBA standards, in 2013 and 2018, which increase firefighter protection from heat. The units are also easier to clean, which minimize first responder exposure to carcinogens.
The new SCBA equipment also has communication enhancement features, universal buddy breathers between all manufacturers, and uniform Personal Alert Safety Systems, which, when used in conjunction with a SCBA, allows a firefighter to summon help by activating a loud, piercing electronic beep. The devices also have a low air alarm.
Portis said SCBA is the department’s most important safety equipment.
“For us, it basically goes on our backs, and we use that to go into fires and other hazardous environments,” Portis said. “Our current generation is about 10 years old, and the golden rule for fire service is about 10 years.”
He said new standards have come out in the last decade that improve the safety features of SCBA.
Portis said the department evaluated the SCBA equipment from different companies, evaluating the masks, harnesses and the cylinder itself.
“We wanted to do a thorough testing of every vendor out there,” Portis said. “We did our due diligence in researching all of them.”
Cousigno said the department planned to purchase 42 units, with 82 cylinders, 50 masks, two compressors, four rib packs with test equipment, which will completely replace the department’s current equipment. He said the new units have major upgrades which enhance spoken communication as well.
Portis said the old SCBA equipment can either be made available to a local college or sold as used online.
Chief Financial Officer Jason Couture said city officials must be cautious with the terminology it uses with respect to the disbursement of used equipment. He said the city cannot make a “charitable donation” to a college, and it must be noted with a value receipt. He said he will work with Portis to come up with an appropriate strategy for the distribution of used equipment, either through an approved scrapping method, sale or a disbursement that is acceptable from an accounting perspective.
Portis said the new alerting system will be up-to-date with the new dispatching standards for fire and emergency medical responders. He said their units are currently dispatched by phone, which he said is antiquated.
“This would basically bring us up to the standard that we should have,” Portis said. “It is really a unique system. It has tones and lights, and it has basically everything that is in the standard as far as communication to any responding units.”
Portis said the outer fire stations do not at present have any type of alerting systems. The new system would encompass all three Taylor fire stations.
“We are actually calling them by phone, which is not the best system, not the best way to do it,” he said.
Portis said the new alerting system works with the Courts and Law Enforcement Management Information System. He said that was an important factor in choosing an alerting system.
Young said the stations currently have radio-to-radio communications. The new alerting system is a stand-alone system, which uses the information which CLEMIS sends out, and can be processed and sent via Voice over Internet Protocol, VoIP, or the Internet to the stations.
“There is a box that receives it, and it disperses the information into the stations, and each station will have a monitor,” Young said. “It is going to show up on a screen, and it is going to tell you what kind of run it is, it is going to have a map showing the quickest route to get you to that run, and different tones, and different lights.”
He said medical runs have blue lights and a distinct tone, while fires, crashes and non-medical runs will be red lights, each with its own separate tone.
Young said he likes the built-in redundancies, so if the Internet goes down, a redundancy will put the information on tablets in the trucks via cell.