Pascrell bolsters local firefighting efforts


If you were wondering why there was a mob of people gathered in front of the Kearny Fire Department’s Midland Ave. headquarters last week, the explanation is simple: Press conference.   

Guest of honor at the June 28 program was Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), who was there to formally present the department with a $221,000 Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG), which will be used to purchase new turnout gear for all 88 KFD members. 

That alone was reason for celebration — but it’s only part of the story. Including this latest AFG, the department has been awarded four grants, totaling more than $2 million, over the last 11 months.  

This is more than a drop in the fire bucket. And considering that, in the words of Deputy Chief Bruce Kauffmann, “thousands upon thousands” of grant applications are filed annually by FDs across the country, Kearny can consider itself especially fortunate. And obviously deserving.

The biggest chunk of cash came last July: $1.595 million in SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) program to hire 12 new firefighters. The money is enough to cover their salaries and benefits for two full years. Fire Chief Steve Dyl noted that eight have already been hired and the remainder will be named before year’s end.

The KFD also received a $266,000 AFG for new SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) — “air packs” to us civilians — that will replace the 20-year-old, increasingly unreliable equipment.

Kauffmann called the purchase “a major step forward in the right direction,” noting that “there have been a lot of changes in air packs, geared toward giving firefighters more time to get out” when exiting a burning building is critical. The regulators are designed to vibrate when the air supply gets low, and the newer ones send that alert earlier than the old — which could mean saving the user’s life.

Another AFG was for $50,000, of which $40,000 will be spent on new computer software that could also save lives. When fire inspectors find potential hazards in a given structure, they will now be able to feed the info directly into the KFD’s database — which means that firefighters will know, immediately upon getting an alarm, what specific problems they could face at the fire scene. 

The remaining $10,000 is going toward arson-awareness training, to help firefighters determine the origin and causes of a blaze. 

As for the new turnout gear to be funded by the latest grant, Kauffmann noted that the current outfits are 10 years old — which means they are pretty well-worn. The KFD is currently field-testing new gear from different manufacturers and will probably choose the vendor by September.

It was Pascrell who authored the FIRE (Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement) Act that became law in 2001, establishing the only federal program that delivered grant money directly to fire departments. It has morphed into the AFG, administered by the Department of Homeland Security, but the feds still deal directly with FDs.

Addressing the crowd at last week’s program, the congressman said: “Over the past few years, I’ve worked in a bipartisan way to restore hundreds of millions of dollars to the SAFER and FIRE programs. But the fight is not over. When accounting for inflation, the FIRE and SAFER programs have experienced a reduction in real dollars, at a time when costs of personnel, apparatus and training continue to rise.

“As the chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Fire Services Caucus, I will continue to push for additional support for our fire grant programs. When we prioritize funding for proven programs like the AFG and SAFER grants, we uphold our commitment to first responders in communities like Kearny and across our nation by letting them know they will never stand alone.”

Pascrell also commended  Dyl and Kauffmann for their efforts in obtaining the grants, noting: “The application process is important because these are essentially competitions between towns across the country.”

Citing the economic downturn that began in 2012 and had the KFD facing “layoffs and mass retirements,” Dyl told The Observer, “We’re trying to come out from under. We’re rebuilding, and we’re finally almost digging out of the hole.”

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