PEPPERELL — Deputy State Director Roger Lau of Sen. John Kerry’s office arrived in town last week bearing gifts in the form of badly needed dollars townsfolk would otherwise be asked to spend.
Lau was present at the selectmen’s meeting to announce Pepperell’s receipt of a $188,500 Homeland Security grant for breathing apparatus and training.
“We know it’s small but hopefully it will be a bit of help. Fire Departments throughout the state are in trouble,” Lau said. “Hopefully (the grant program) will be ongoing. Obviously we’re very excited.”
Fire Chief Toby Tyler said about $160,000 will be used to purchase Self Contained Breathing Apparatus — the cylindrical air packs firefighters wear when they enter burning buildings.
Some of the money will be also be used on training programs including rapid intervention, vehicle rescue, technical rescue and officer training.
Receipt of such grants requires some expenditure from the receiving town. In this case, some $8,997 which, Tyler said, his department will ask May town meeting voters to approve.
Answering selectman chairman Joseph Sergi, Lau said grant recipients are selected based on certain categories of fire services offered the community except “bricks and mortar” (buildings).
“Obviously safety if critical for firefighters which is understood at the federal level,” Lau said.
Tyler said he checked the Homeland Security web site and found out Pepperell’s $188,500 grant was the highest awarded in Massachusetts so far.
It is not the first Homeland Security grant Pepperell has received, although it is the first to be fully implemented.
Last year, the town was awarded a SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant which would have helped defray the cost of adding two full-time firefighters to the department. Its acceptance required town meeting approval which was not gained however.
Also last year, the department received another grant which was used to purchase state of the art vehicle rescue tools. Yet another grant saw purchase of new personal firefighting gear to replace threadbare, worn equipment.
“It’s very exciting,” the chief said of the recent grant. “Some of our air packs are 15 or 16 years old and are due for replacement. We were planning to ask for $50,000 this year and another $50,000 in a couple of years to begin the $200,000 replacement process. This grant saves the town a lot of money.”
Thanking Lau for coming to Pepperell, his first visit, selectman Patrick McNabb said, “It’s nice to get a win-win scenario once in a while.”