One of Falmouth Fire Department’s self-contained breathing apparatus that will be replaced. This one was purchased between 2002-2007.

Firefighters in Falmouth soon will each have their own air mask and more air tanks to go around, thanks to a recent grant from FEMA.

Falmouth’s 80 firefighters have been sharing 41 self-controlled breathing apparatuses and, with COVID-19 precautions in place, cleaning them after each use, Falmouth Fire Chief Howard Rice said. FEMA will be providing the department with 35 new tanks and 61 new masks, so each firefighter will be able to have their own mask.

“It’s going to make our firefighters safer and allow us to continue to do our jobs,” Rice said. “We were just starting to replace the older SCBAs that we have, and this grant will allow us to replace all of them.”

Each apparatus provides an average of 45 minutes of air.

Although many of the current SCBAs are still working, it is just about time for them to be replaced.

“Some of the SCBAs are about 15 years old now,” Rice said. “FEMA tries to replace equipment that is more than three versions old, and we have a bunch that are more than three versions old. This just means that the new ones coming in will be state-of-the-art and have all the latest features and functions.”

The FEMA grant will also take pressure off the town’s capital budget.

Falmouth Fire Department will use about $70,000 of a recently awarded grant to replace an air compressor/fill station, which is about 15 years old.

“(This equipment) has been a big driver in the town’s budget the last couple of years,” Rice said. “This hopefully shows the public that we’re working hard to find ways other than town funds to help with our needs. This is a good example of an opportunity we took advantage of.”

The FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant of $316,000 also will be used to replace the department’s 15-year-old air compressor fill station, which is used to refill the firefighters’ air tanks.

“We’ve had problems with the current one over the last couple of years,” Rice said. “It’s at the end of its life, so this grant couldn’t come at a better time for us.”

The fire department will likely not receive the equipment until November or December. An environmental impact study needs to be completed before the new air compressor fill station can be installed, and that will take about two months to be completed and reviewed.

The grant is highly competitive, said Deputy Chief Colin Shea.

“This is a nationwide process,” Shea said. “FEMA receives several thousand applications every year just for small piece of the pie.”

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