Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Kensington fire department to buy new truck with federal grant

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The Kensington Volunteer Fire Department will use a $600,000 federal grant to buy a new fire truck with a 95-foot ladder.

The grant, from U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, will be used to buy a new $750,000 truck to replace a 1973 model that has been out of service for a year.

It is the second-largest grant ever awarded for a new truck through the Federal Emergency Management Agency program, which gives money to fire departments to enhance their ability to protect the public and fire service personnel from fire and related hazards, according to FEMA.

The largest grant the program ever awarded was $675,000 for the Pittsfield Fire Department in Pittsfield, Mass., this year.

‘‘This is going to make a big difference,” said Jim Stanton, treasurer and former fire chief of the Kensington station.

In an emergency, the first ladder truck comes of out of the station at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda or Glenmont. Kensington’s ladder truck has been broken for almost a year.

‘‘It’s a slower response time from those to areas in terms of Kensington, this truck will be the first to arrive ... and minutes count.”

The grant is not the fire department has received. Since 2003, the station has accrued more than $1.8 million in state and federal grants, according to officials.

‘‘We have a very aggressive grant writing campaign,” Stanton said. ‘‘We’re constantly reviewing grants that come out from the federal government and the private sector.”

Grants were used to buy CPR dummies for community training classes, firefighting equipment and a training room for firefighters to learn command tactics.

Receiving so many grants is about attention to detail and knowing where the ‘‘skeletons are buried,” said Capt. Chris St. John, grant writer for the fire department. ‘‘It’s not just from FEMA and Homeland Security, but it’s also from the state and it’s from the Defense Department. There are all kinds of ways that money is available.”

St. John said the station made a concerted effort to be prepared for a disaster following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and a 1996 fiery collision of Amtrak and MARC trains in Silver Spring that claimed 11 lives.

‘‘They keep telling us it’s not a question of ‘if’ it’s a question of ‘when,” said St. John. ‘‘Are we ready for an accident? Are we ready for some idiot with a plane that dive bombs into the Capitol or the Pentagon? ... Well, by God, Kensington has decided that we will be ready for no matter what happens.”

Kensington firefighters responded to each of those tragedies, he said, and continually gear up to serve county residents when the next accident happens.

‘‘I’ll never forget the collision [in Silver Spring]... and watching people burning in those passenger cars. Were we ready? Maybe we were, but now we’re going to be really ready,” he said. ‘‘If you’re not getting it from local and regional sources, then you’ve got to start looking at where the money is. We’re more than glad to help other stations and they ask me all the time to look at applications. We’re all brothers in the same fight.”