The Federal Emergency Management Agency, in some parts of the country vilified for mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, has won support locally for more than $100,000 in grants for fire prevention equipment.
North Riverside received about $108,000 and Brookfield received about $34,000 in the grant allotment, held in late August. The money was given as part of the 2005 Fire Prevention and Safety Grants from FEMA, a division of the new Department of Homeland Security.
The gifts were announced recently, and lead well into National Fire Prevention Week Oct. 9-15, an observation that began with Chicago roots almost a century ago.
The FEMA grant funding is designed to keep fire departments up to date with new equipment that can help in all kinds of emergencies now faced by modern America, including bomb blasts or chemical agent attacks.
Raymond Martinek, North Riverside’s fire chief, said his department will use the funds to buy 22 new air packs and air cylinders and one rapid intervention pack. His department has now received $140,000 in grants and donations this year.
“Our current air packs are seven years old, and aren’t made to handle the dangers we face today,” Martinek said. “The new packs meet the standards for homeland security.”
Brookfield Fire Chief Charles LaGreco said that this latest grant will be used for the purchase of a cascade and compressor system for filling self-contained breathing unit with purified air. The department was previously awarded $85,000 to purchase self-contained breathing units.
Over the past three years, the Brookfield Fire Department has won $187,000 in homeland security grants. According to LaGreco, Firefighter Jon Hultgren was instrumental in obtaining that money for the department by leading the grant application effort.
In total, Illinois received more than $16 million from 169 fire prevention and safety grants this year. The agency is committed to giving out $32.5 million in grants throughout the country.
David Paulison, acting undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security’s Emergency Preparedness and Response, said the grants provide an opportunity to enhance fire service in locations across the country by providing funding for firefighting operations, firefighter safety, EMS delivery, vehicle purchase, and prevention programs.
“The grants ensure that the nation’s firefighters continue to have the basic capability they require to do their jobs, improve safety and save lives,” he said.
The grants come at a time when Chicago residents are asked to remember the city’s worst fire disaster, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. That devastating fire that killed more than 250 people, and a larger fire the same day that killed 1,152 people and burned 1.2 million acres in northeast Wisconsin. In the wake of those two blazes, the former Fire Marshals Association of North America created National Fire Prevention Week in 1911.
Fire danger is on the rise, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In 2004, about 400,000 house fires occurred in the United States, and more than 17,000 Americans either died or were injured.
This year’s prevention week theme is “Use Candles With Care.” Judy Comoletti, assistant vice president for public education for the association, said fires caused by candles have tripled from the same figures a decade ago.
“We’re finding that these fires were from leaving candles unattended. People need to understand that a candle is an open flame, they need to stay in a room where a candle is lit, and not put it to close to something that can burn,” she said.
North Riverside has declared the entire month of October Fire Prevention Month in the village. The observance will include tours and a public education program at the North Riverside Fire Department for Komarek School children, a fire safety smoke trailer demonstration at Komarek School and fire drills at both Komarek School and the Edward Don Company.
Bob Uphues contributed to this report.