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More than $540,000 in grants is being awarded to help Pennsylvania’s rural and smaller communities guard against the threat of fires in forests and other undeveloped areas.
Among the departments receiving funds from this year’s grant program through the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry is Birdsboro-Union Fire Department, which was awarded $6,496. A total of 141 volunteer fire companies across the state, all serving rural areas and communities where forest and brush fires are common, were selected.
“This funding will go towards new wildland personal protective equipment, which includes wildland shirts, pants, boots, equipment back packs, etc. These are all things that we found to be outdated for the Hopewell Wildland fire earlier this year,” said BUFD Chief Christopher Bickings.
Local firefighting forces in rural areas or communities with fewer than 10,000 residents were eligible. Last year, the grant program awarded $699,000 to 160 fire companies across the state.
“My reaction was a sense of excitement and relief. Our department has been turned down for the past two national Assistance to Firefighter’s Grant (AFG), where we submitted for personal protective equipment (PPE) and the more costly equipment such as air packs, rescue tools, etc.,” Bickings added.
According to a DCNR press release, the key objective of the grants is to better equip and train volunteers to save lives and protect property in unprotected or inadequately protected rural areas. Grant recipients were selected based on vulnerability and adequacy of existing fire protection. In reviewing applications, the bureau placed priority on applications seeking funds for projects that included purchasing wildfire-suppression equipment and protective clothing.
“All grants help us fund the programs that we do not have enough money in our annual budget to do. These programs become more critical as the years go by, because if we leave equipment on the ‘back burner’ for too long, we run the risk of having it fail when it is needed, or in this case, we just didn’t have the appropriate PPE for the wildland fire.
“The readiness of these men and women is demonstrated every spring and summer when they answer assistance calls coming from other states, while also responding regularly to local woodland and brush fires,” Allan said. “These federal grants allow firefighters from smaller companies to concentrate more on public safety and training while easing their fiscal constraints.”
Grant recipients were named following review of fire company applications meeting a May 2012 deadline. Grants and other assistance are provided through the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Forestry, with funding supplied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service through the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act of 1978.
Grants were also awarded for mobile or portable radios, water supply installations, wildfire prevention and mitigation, wildfire fighting training, and to convert and maintain federal excess vehicles the bureau receives and uses for fire suppression.
Grants for any project during a fiscal year cannot exceed 50 percent of the actual expenditures. The maximum grant size was $7,500.
Aid is granted on a cost-share basis, with recipients supplying matching funds. The bureau will begin accepting applications for 2013’s grant program next spring.
To expedite the application and decision-making processes, the bureau accepts only online applications. Potential applicants should visit www.dcnr.state.pa.us and click on “Apply for Grants,” then “Online Grant Applications” and “DCNR Volunteer Fire Assistance.”
Other Berks County recipients included:
Berks Emergency Strike Team Inc., Reading, $2,163
Community Volunteer Fire Co. of Lower Alsace Township, Reading, $2,025
Eastern Berks Fire Department, Barto, $7,500
Hereford Volunteer Fire Co., Hereford, $7,500
Lyons Fire Co. No. 1, Lyon Station, $3,764
Strausstown Volunteer Fire Co. Relief Association, Strausstown, $2,742
Western Berks Fire Department, Wernersville, $3,465.