Nation’s largest FEMA grant to buy equipment for nearly 1,700 firefighters
The Federal Emergency Management Agency joined Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, Congressman John Yarmuth and regional fire chiefs today to announce a $1.7 grant to 22 fire departments serving Louisville Metro and southern Indiana. The grant will purchase individual security devices for each of the region’s nearly 1,700 firefighters, which will vastly improve firefighter safety and agency interoperability during large-scale emergencies.
The award is the largest of its kind in the country and is among the first regional grants FEMA has approved.
“This project will help to protect the safety of our firefighters across Louisville and southern Indiana as they work to protect our citizens,” Abramson said. “These security devices will allow us to track and identify each of our firefighters at a scene – a critical component of accountability during emergencies.”
“Our firefighters show up to work each day ready to put their lives on the line for our community. They are our heroes, and it’s critically important that they have our full support even in tough economic times,” Congressman Yarmuth said. “This funding gives Louisville area firefighters state-of-the-art protective and communicative tools that are critical to keeping our community— and themselves— safe.”
The $1.7 million grant will be matched with $437,000 in local funding to purchase a complete, electronic accountability system and Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) to replace antiquated technology which is more than 15 years old.
“Advances in technology can better protect firefighters as they put their lives on the line to save others,” said FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Kim R. Kadesch. “The funds from this grant will help increase the personal safety and job effectiveness for first responders working in hazardous conditions.”
Currently, most fire departments track firefighters at emergency scenes using a manual “dog tag” system. Each firefighter attaches a tag to an accountability board maintained on the fire vehicle. Those boards are collected and maintained on scene at the command post by an accountability officer. During large-scale emergencies involving multiple agencies, precise accountability is difficult as units report on scene and deploy personnel at different times. The “dog tag” system also doesn’t allow commanding officers to know exactly where an individual firefighter may be at any time, and there is no immediate notification if a firefighter is injured or incapacitated.
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Another complication is reliance on radio communication only during an emergency – interference and background noise may prevent incident commanders from hearing calls for help, and during heavy radio transmissions, not all messages may be transmitted.
The grant will purchase new PASS devices – small, durable plastic transmitters that attach to a firefighter’s coat or oxygen tank that transmit identification information to a central tracking computer on site at an emergency.
When a firefighter leaves the fire apparatus, the device is activated and transmits the firefighter’s identification to the incident commander, giving the command unit real-time documentation for their entire team. The remote alert devices are designed to send distress or mayday signals if a firefighter activates the alarm or if the firefighter stops moving for a certain number of seconds. Once a distress signal is received, all remote alert devices would receive notification so firefighters can immediately search and rescue a responder in trouble. Remote devices can also receive evacuation messages.
“The PASS devices are the next best thing to having someone over your shoulder,” said Louisville Fire Chief Greg Frederick. “Being able to recognize and immediately locate a firefighter in trouble will prevent injuries or even deaths.”
Frederick said the accountability system will be purchased and distributed to all participating fire departments by early summer. Every firefighter will receive a PASS. The grant will also purchase laptops and accountability software.
The 22 participating fire departments respond to 55,000 runs each year. Over a three-year period, the total cost of the equipment averages $13 per run. Participating fire departments include: