Waterford looks at possible replacement of firefighters' breathing equipment

Waterford - The self-contained breathing apparatuses used by Jordan and Oswegatchie firefighters are more than 20 years old, and the town's director of fire services wants to begin replacing them well before they are no longer safe to use.

Bruce Miller told the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday that about 40 percent of the town's SCBA equipment - 45 units - needs to be replaced, and he will be asking for approximately $250,000, or $6,200 for each new unit, with upgrades to each unit not being replaced costing around $2,100.

The proposed $2.7 million fire services budget was approved by the selectmen last week, but because the SCBAs are a one-time purchase, Miller did not include money for them when preparing the proposed 2013-14 operating budget a month ago.

Lacking specifics on the total cost for the Jordan and Oswegatchie equipment, the selectmen appropriated $1 in the town's capital and non-recurring project budget. That will hold the place for Miller's future funding request, and the selectmen, the Board of Finance and the Representative Town Meeting will have to approve the money to buy the equipment.

It has been 10 years, Miller said, since fire services first requested upgrades to the SCBA packs at each of the town's five fire departments. Since then, three of the five departments have received grants for upgrades. The exceptions are the Jordan and Oswegatchie fire companies, he said.

Shipman's Fire Equipment Co. tests the town's SCBA packs every year. Air-flow tests conducted three weeks ago yielded concerns about the ability to make future repairs because replacement parts are getting harder to find. Shipman's tests equipment of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts municipal fire departments for safety code and compliance standards at "coding cycles" that are set every two to three years, Miller said.

"At the end of three cycles, they're too old. If I can't get the equipment tested, I can't rely on it. I can't put it on a firefighter's back and send them into a burning building," Miller said. "It's not just a Waterford issue. Multiple departments are facing this same situation."

The average life expectancy for SCBAs is around 20 years. Miller said that most of the town's SCBAs are nearly 25 years old, and if they start failing, he'll have to look to the town's other fire departments to share their SCBAs with Jordan and Oswegatchie.

j.hanckel@theday.com

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