A firefighter wearing a breathing apparatus climbs up a ladder. New self-contained breathing apparatuses will offer safety improvements like Bluetooth capability, and they can send out distress signals when firefighters stop moving. Photo courtesy of the Encinitas Fire Department
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Grant gives fire department breathing room

ENCINITAS — The Encinitas Fire Department is using grant money to purchase new breathing apparatuses. 

The self-contained apparatuses, which provide breathable air in hazardous environments, include a mask, high-pressure air tank, pressure regulator and a mouthpiece, connected by a thick backpack.

“This is such an important piece of equipment, because it has to be reliable,” Deputy Fire Chief Mike Daigle said. “You only use it in an atmosphere that’s hazardous to your health…like being surrounded by smoke or gases.”

Daigle said that the department bought its current breathing apparatuses in 2001. It’s recommended they be replaced every 15 years, so the department is due for an upgrade.

Plus, the new breathing apparatuses come with a host of improved safety features. Compared to the current apparatuses, they’re lighter, providing greater range of motion.

And currently, firefighters need to fish their radios out of their pockets and press the right button to communicate — no easy task when they’re enshrouded by smoke. But with the new breathing apparatuses, the radios will stay inside their pockets, because the apparatuses have built in Bluetooth technology that wirelessly connects with firefighters’ radios.

Daigle noted that the current breathing apparatuses can be linked to the radios via a hardwire cord that runs from the mask to the radio, but that option also presents issues.

“It tethers you to the radio,” Daigle said. “It’s just something else to deal with when you’re crawling through a small space — you’ve got this wire hanging down being dragged.

“And those wires can fail with age and from the heat,” Daigle added.

Additionally, the new breathing apparatuses emit high-pitched noises if they detect firefighters have stopped moving, serving as a signal to others that they’re in trouble.

The cost of the new breathing apparatuses is $305,000. About $244,000 of that will come from the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Assistance to Firefighters Grant. The city is paying for the remaining portion.

Daigle said the department would have ordered new apparatuses without the grant, so the funding from FEMA dramatically helped the department’s budget situation.

“These grants are more competitive than ever; it’s huge the department secured it,” Daigle said.

The Encinitas Fire Department has 63 full-time employees and runs services ranging from fire protection to disaster preparedness to lifeguard services. The department’s operating budget this year, including marine safety, is $12 million.

For the breathing apparatuses, the department will buy 35 backpacks, 48 masks and 70 air tanks.

Expected to last 15 to 20 years, the breathing apparatuses were approved by the City Council on Wednesday. They should be delivered in the next month.

Last year, the department also received $126,709 from a separate FEMA grant, which went toward new radios and other equipment.

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