Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Fire department receives federal grant

Sykesville-Freedom District to receive laptops with Global Information System to be installed in vehicles

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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded the Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Department a $95,798 grant to place laptops in the department’s vehicles.

The grant will be used to purchase Panasonic Toughbook laptops equipped with Global Information System applications, said firefighter Bill Flanagan, who wrote the grant request.

The new technology will provide first responders with locations of fire hydrants, special needs population, known hazardous material sites, commercial building sites, and other important information to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of every piece of apparatus and every member of the department, according to a press release.

One laptop will be placed in each of the 11 emergency vehicles at the department, said Dennis E. Beard, spokesman for the department

Each laptop costs $6,200, which includes software, antennas, wiring and installation, Flanagan said. The grant also includes money to train staff, he added.

The federal funding is through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.

To find places now, Flanagan said the department mainly uses hand-drawn maps. The new technology will especially help in bad weather when drivers might have to take an alternate route, he said.

‘‘If we [have] inclement weather and we have to take a patient to a specialty hospital, like Shock Trauma or to Washington, D.C., it would be nice to know how to get there,” Flanagan said.

One of the best features of the project is that firefighters would be able to plan how they would fight a fire while on route to it, he said.

The software also includes floor plans of warehouses so firefighters would know in advance where the sprinkler rooms and doors would be, he said.

The grant award announcement was made Jan. 17 by U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D), a member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, and U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D).

‘‘I know how important this funding is to Maryland communities — often it’s the difference between life and death,” Mikulski said in a press release. ‘‘First responders protect our homes and communities, and the federal government has a responsibility to protect them by providing them with the tools they need to do their jobs safer and smarter. Every day when our first responders report for duty, they don’t know what they will face. That’s why I fight every year for the equipment, training, and staffing our protectors and communities deserve.”

Joe McCauley, president of the fire department, expressed his pleasure in a press release.

‘‘We’re pleased that our department has been awarded this grant,” he said. ‘‘The population and demand for service in our area grows every year, and our proximity to both Baltimore and Washington, D.C., make this southeast corner of Carroll County a critical area. These funds will give us the opportunity to provide our first responders with some of the latest technology to aid them in their mission – serving and protecting the people of our district.”

This is the third Homeland Security grant for the department. In 2004, it was awarded $130,500 to buy new breathing equipment and a thermal imaging camera. In 2006, it was awarded $29,768 for an all-terrain vehicle.

The department has to match 10 percent of the grant ($10,644), which brings the grant total to $106,442, Flanagan said.

No date is set for when the laptops will be available, but the project must be completed within a year, he added.