DUMMERSTON—The West Dummerston Fire Department will soon get new safety equipment, including a truck to fight forest fires. Some of the updated apparatus will live in the new Center Fire Station, which is a few weeks away from completion.
In early August, the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded the department $116,096 as part of the agency’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.
The department will use this money to replace an aging brush truck and to purchase three new thermal imaging cameras.
According to a news release, “Numerous safety and maintenance issues have plagued the current [brush] truck in recent years and there was no money to replace it."
Assistant Fire Chief Rich Cogliano told The Commons the department uses the brush truck mostly to fight forest fires.
But he expects they will use the new truck more often because of its enhanced features.
“It’s a one-ton pickup truck outfitted with a small water tank, a pump, special rakes,” and more, Cogliano said.
“It can hold more people, and we can put medical equipment in there, so it can go to non-brush fires, and be used as a first-responder vehicle. Now, the rescue truck is at the West Street station, so when we need medical equipment on this side of town, the firefighters bring it in their own vehicles,” he added.
The department currently has two thermal imaging cameras, but Cogliano said they are 16 years old.
The FEMA grant will pay for three new cameras — one for each front-line fire engine. This equipment, which is standard in modern firefighting, allows firefighters “to check for fire extension in walls and locate victims in smoke-filled environments better than with the current cameras, which are obsolete,” according to the news release.
The grant also provides funding to train department personnel in the proper use and operation of the brush truck and the thermal imaging cameras.
Now that the money is guaranteed, the purchasing process for the new truck and the cameras has begun. “We’ve already gotten bids,” Cogliano said.
“These grants are very, very competitive,” said Cogliano, who wrote the grant applications. “It’s one of the most competitive federal grants,” for firefighting and otherwise, he said. “FEMA awards $500 million total every year, but some larger departments ask for $1 million,” he added.
“These grant awards are nearly 130 percent more than our annual operating budget” Cogliano said. The department will be responsible for a 5 percent match of the funds, or approximately $6000.
In the past eight years, Cogliano’s grant-writing skills brought the department four grants.
“I’ve had other fire departments ask for help. I’ve helped them, including sending them the grant application narratives I’ve written,” he said.
“I’m excited and the department is extremely excited” about the FEMA grants, he added. “I wrote the grants, but it’s really about the department. It’s one of the ways I contribute."
For the past few years, FEMA had denied the department’s applications, Cogliano said.
“I looked at what and how we were requesting, and I refined the specs. I also explained our need, and how hard it was to get the new fire station funded. We have no more money for this equipment,” he said.
The department almost didn’t have a new fire station to house the incoming apparatus.
It took multiple Selectboard meetings, a petition, an hour-long public information session, and a Special Town Meeting for voters to have an opportunity to decide whether to support the department’s plans for a new Central Station on East-West Road.
In the end, townspeople agreed to raise $175,000 through taxes to partially fund the station. Fire department volunteers collected about 40 percent of the $250,000 to $280,000 estimated cost of demolishing the current station and building a new one in its place.
Now, the station is weeks away from completion. According to Tim Severance, of Severance Building and Design, the firm constructing the station, the state fire marshal has to okay the building inspections, which should happen by mid-September. “Then they can load it up,” Severance said.
Cogliano answered the question on the minds of many locals and visitors: What about the pancakes?
Yes, Cogliano said, the new fire station will be open in time for the department’s pancake breakfast, held every year during Dummerston’s Apple Pie Festival.
“We’ll make the pancakes in the kitchen, and there’ll probably be about the same number of seats” as in the old station, he said, but “seating will all be downstairs, because there’s no upstairs now."
“The square-footage isn’t much bigger, but the footprint is bigger,” in the new station, Cogliano said. The new bays are about 10 feet wider and a little longer, with doors that are wider and much higher to accommodate modern firetrucks. To replace the old upstairs food preparation and meeting area, the new design includes a back room.
Cogliano expects the department will hold the ribbon-cutting to officially open the new fire station in mid-October. After pancakes.