Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 @ 2:01 p.m. / Community, Fire, Local Government
Crescent Fire & Rescue Will Make Third Attempt at FEMA Grant For Breathing Apparatuses; Council Urges Chief to Figure Out Measure S-Funded Backup Plan
With Measure S dollars fully allocated this year, Councilors gave the Crescent City Fire & Rescue chief authorization to seek a federal grant to replace an aging inventory of breathing apparatuses for their firefighters.
This will be Crescent City Fire & Rescue’s third attempt at applying for $483,947 in FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant dollars, Chief Bill Gillespie told Councilors on Monday. If they’re successful, the fire department will replace their entire fleet of self-contained breathing apparatuses, or SCBAs.
Firefighters rely on self-contained breathing apparatuses for oxygen while they’re in a confined space or in an atmosphere with harmful chemicals, according to Gillespie.
The department’s SCBAs and the air cylinders they use have exceeded their service life, according to Gillespie. Thirty-nine SCBAs are out of service and can’t be repaired due to a lack of parts. Sixty-seven air cylinders are also nearing their 15-year service life, Gillespie told Councilors.
“We’ve got a number of them on our last fill,” he said. “They’re still full of air for one more time and then those cylinders are finished.”
Councilor Beau Smith, who is a Crescent City Fire & Rescue volunteer firefighter, requested more information about the FEMA grant on Monday, noting that if the application is successful, the city’s contributing match, $11,524, would come from its general fund. Smith asked if Measure S dollars could be used for that expenditure.
Voters approved Measure S, a 1 percent sales tax increase, in November 2020 with the caveat that those dollars be used to benefit the Crescent City Police Department, Crescent City Fire & Rescue, street repairs and the Fred Endert Municipal Pool. Measure S is expected to generate approximately $1.3 million annually for the city.
City Manager Eric Wier said those tax dollars have been fully allocated this year. The Measure S Advisory Committee and the City Council will meet in February to discuss future expenditures, he said.
If Crescent City Fire & Rescue’s FEMA grant is successful, Gillespie said he’d be coming back to the City Council to request a financial allocation for the city’s match, but he’s not sure when that will take place.
Fire departments nationwide compete for FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant, Gillespie noted. The first time Crescent City Fire & Rescue pursued the grant, its application was unsuccessful early in the process, he said.
The department’s second attempt at the FEMA grant occurred late last winter. According to Gillespie, Crescent City Fire & Rescue made it to the final round of applicants, but, again, was unsuccessful.
Most fire departments that had unsuccessfully applied for the FEMA grant were “booted out” in August, Gillespie said. The grant closed out in October, he said.
According to Gillespie’s staff report, if this third attempt at the FEMA grant is successful, both Crescent City and the Crescent Fire Protection District would have to contribute 5 percent, or $23,048, toward the total grant award. The city and fire protection district would split those costs 50-50, he said.
“Going after this (grant) first is an attempt with the plan then, if we can’t get this, to start trying to at least address cylinder needs to keep the current packs going while we try to get a larger expenditure later to replace the old fleet,” Gillespie said, adding that the new packs will replace 30-minute breathing apparatuses with 45-minute breathing apparatuses.
“We purchased some bottles last year and we also have some bottles that we were able to get from a fire department in Oregon that still had a couple of years of service life to try and stretch what we’re doing to make it a little bit longer to hopefully receive one of these funding opportunities," he said.
Later in the meeting, Kelly Schellong, chair of the Measure S oversight committee, gave a presentation on how those dollars were used this year. According to Schellong, the first allocation came to the city in the fourth quarter of its 2020-21 budget.
“We were projecting an estimated revenue of $300,000 and what came in was $452,930,” she said. “The city has expended $123,394 — some of those things were delayed because of COVID. There’s still a remaining balance of $332,496 that is dedicated to Measure S from the fourth quarter of your fiscal year.”
According to Schellong, Crescent City Fire & Rescue used those Measure S dollars to purchase large diameter fire hoses, new roof ventilation, saws and have obtained quotes for more hoses and other equipment.
Those Measure S funds are also being used to continue the department’s stipend program for its volunteers and to move a staffing plan forward, Schellong said.
Measure S Oversight Committee representatives will also ask the City Council to consider and the fire department to set aside $98,000 for a vehicle replacement fund, Schellong said.
“It sounds to me like one of the issues you talked about earlier with the breathing apparatuses probably should be on some kind of plan like that as well,” she said.
Earlier in the meeting, before the Council approved Crescent Fire & Rescue’s grant application, Mayor Pro Tem Blake Inscore noted that the self-contained breathing apparatuses aren’t luxury items.
Inscore urged Gillespie to work with the Measure S Oversight Committee to come up with a funding strategy to ensure purchasing that equipment isn’t contingent on whether or not the department received the FEMA grant.