FEMA grant pic

Assistant Chief Ryan Baker of Ballardsville Fire, left, and Chief Stephen Fante, demonstrate one of numerous Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus packs they received through a FEMA grant. 

A single federal equipment grant awarded to four local fire departments outfitted more than 120 firefighters with state-of-the-art, life-saving gear.

It also saved local taxpayers just shy of $782,000.

Assistant Chief Ryan Baker of Ballardsville Fire, in collaboration with La Grange, South Oldham and Westport fire departments, wrote and put in for the highly competitive FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) two years ago.

The AFG helps firefighters and other first responders obtain “critically-needed equipment” spanning emergency vehicles to training and protective gear, according to its website. Local fire partners specifically applied for the Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), a device that provides breathable air in oxygen-deficient environments not limited to fire, but also toxic gases and other airborne contaminants.

The grant application, according to Baker, required months of painstaking number crunching. COVID-19 also delayed the awards until fall 2021.

The wait paid off.

The four departments received $781,954 after providing a 10-percent match for the total grant award of $860,150. Those dollars translated into 124 SCBA’s, 124 spare cylinders and 137 face pieces with ‘heads-up’ displays, all of which were put into use by February 2022.

“This award is the largest equipment grant awarded from FEMA in the history of Kentucky and as such is a huge savings for the citizens of Oldham County,” Baker said.

In an interview Friday afternoon, Baker, along with Ballardsville Fire Chief Stephen Fante, who also played a key role in the grant process, emphasized that upgraded SBCA devices were indeed a crucial need among local departments.

Some of their previous SCBAs, while functional, were more than a 20-years old.

“The biggest [improvement] is having technology that’s 20-years newer,” said Fante, adding that all departments will likely save thousands of dollars on battery replacement alone. “We used to buy Double A, C, batteries for the old [SCBAs].”

The new SCBAs awarded by the grant function as a package deal with an estimated retail value of $7,000 per unit. Each unit contains a backpack and harness, air cylinder and face piece with an LED Heads-Up display and Blue Tooth capability.

Not only are the units more comfortable and technologically superior, according to Baker and Fante they also have a 15-year warranty with no maintenance costs other than an annual hydrostatic test on the cylinders.