WINCHESTER — City Council’s new Finance Committee wants Winchester to dip into its savings account to buy new self-contained breathing apparatus for firefighters.
Replacing the Fire and Rescue Department’s 73 breathing units is something Winchester has hoped to do for years, but repeated attempts to obtain federal grant money to buy new apparatus failed.
Interim Winchester Fire and Rescue Chief Hadden Culp told the Finance Committee at its inaugural meeting Tuesday evening his department’s current apparatus will only get older and worsen in performance, so action should be taken even if grant money is unavailable.
“Most of the equipment we have now is between three and 15 years old,” Culp said. “The majority is over 10 years old.”
Until now, breathing apparatus for Winchester’s four fire and rescue companies has been purchased by the volunteers at each individual station.
“As a result, there are currently five different models of air packs being used throughout the city, and nearly all of them have surpassed — or are approaching— the useful lifespan recommended by the equipment manufacturers as well as NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards,” Winchester Financial Services Director Celeste Broadstreet wrote in a memo to the Finance Committee.
Even if each station’s volunteers wanted to keep purchasing their own breathing apparatus, they wouldn’t be able to do so anytime soon. Culp said the COVID-19 pandemic has seriously curtailed volunteers’ ability to host fundraising events.
Replacing all 73 units at once, Culp said, would allow the city to standardize the brand of breathing apparatus at all four companies and establish equipment maintenance and replacement schedules.
After requesting quotes from manufacturers, city officials have determined it will cost $504,153 to replace the 73 breathing units. Culp said some of that expense could be offset by trading in or selling the existing equipment.
Broadstreet told the Finance Committee that repeated applications for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Assistance for Firefighters Grants, including one filed this year, have been denied.
“Staff is seeking permission to [use] $429,153 of additional capital reserve funds to replace the budgeted grant funding which was not awarded,” Broadstreet wrote in her memo to the committee. “The current balance of capital reserve funds is $1,300,000. The remaining balance would be $870,847.”
The additional $75,000 needed to buy the self-contained breathing apparatus was already included in Winchester’s fiscal year 2021 budget in anticipation of providing matching funds for a FEMA grant, she wrote.
The Finance Committee voted unanimously to forward the purchase request to the full City Council with a recommendation of approval.
Attending Tuesday evening’s Finance Committee meeting in Rouss City Hall were Chairman John Willingham and members Judy McKiernan and David Smith.