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Mound Fire received nearly $152,000 in federal money to replace all 22 of its SCBA units. SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) is the joined system of harness, breathing mask and air tank that is a firefighter’s lifeline in hazardous and smoky environments. (Submitted photos/Mound Fire Department)

Mound Fire Department received a large scale federal grant July 31 that will fund the replacement of all its SCBA gear.

SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) is the joined system of mask, harness and air tank that serves as a firefighter’s lifeline in hazardous and smoke-filled environments. Each set can cost $7,000 or more.

“This is a huge win for us,” said Greg Pederson, Mound Fire Chief.

MFD received $151,758 through the U.S. Homeland Security FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, a federally funded program for improvement of fire department operations and with particular emphasis on firefighter health and safety.

So far this year, 34 of Minnesota’s 778 fire departments have received an AFG award, ranging from $2,600 to $321,000. To date, MFD ranks fifth in the state for largest grant received in 2020.

Conditioned on acceptance of the AFG award is a required 5 percent matching contribution by the receiving department, or just under $7,600, that MFD will put toward its project of replacing the 17-year-old gear that Pederson termed “obsolete” and which under guidelines set by the National Fire Protection Association is three standards out of date.

“We use these all the time. They get used and abused when you’re crawling around in a structure fire,” said Pederson. “We needed to replace all of these units.”

The department had initially budgeted for the gradual replacement of all 22 units over the next seven years before hearing the department had been granted the award last month. Now, Pederson said he expects to have the new gear later this fall.

The new SCBA will increase a firefighter’s work cycle, or in-fire time, from an average of 20 minutes to one of 30 minutes thanks to improvements over the years in how much pressurized air each of the fiberglass bottles can hold. The new issue can hold air pressurized between 4,500 and 5,500 psi, which is about twice as much as the bottles currently on hand can hold

The tech improvements for SCBA over the past several years have also been huge, said Pederson, turning through page after page of just one vendor’s options for everything from built-in thermal imaging cameras to WiFi transmission of data.

But even the most basic safety features that the old SCBA had are enhanced from what they were 17 years ago. The distress signal that sounds out for rescue by other fire personnel when no motion is detected is stronger now, said Pederson, and the voice amp installed in each of the masks is clearer, less muffled.

The new gear will also give firefighters an easy read on how much air is left in their bottles. MFD firefighters currently rely on a handheld gauge attached to the harness of the SCBA. The new masks will likely have that system built in as four green lights that, one by one, turn red as 25 percent, 50 percent and 75 percent of the air is used.

MFD had laid the groundwork for the new SCBA two years ago when, aided by another AFG award for nearly $70,000, the department invested in an air compressor capable of filling the newer high-pressure bottles.

That grant also covered the mobile fill station in its Heavy Rescue 22 truck, one of the few such trucks in the county. The four yellow cylinders stored inside #22 can provide an onsite refill to individual firefighters’ air bottles, which allows a firefighter to go back into a building for a second work cycle.

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